Dec. 19 - Czechs gather and light candles in memory of their former president Vaclav Havel, who died after a long illness. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) Thousands marched in the Czech capital, Prague, on Sunday night to pay their respects to former president Vaclav Havel. Many people laid down flowers or lit candles as part of a rally at the steps of the St. Wenceslas monument in the city centre. Former Czech leader Havel, a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, died at age 75. As president of a country of 10 million, the former playwright oversaw Czechoslovakia's transition to democracy and a free-market economy, as well its peaceful 1993 split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Even out of office, the diminutive Czech remained a world figure. He was part of the "new Europe " - in the coinage of then U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld - of ex-communist countries that stood up for the U.S., when the democracies of "old Europe " opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion. A former chain smoker, Havel had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in communist jails. He was taken to hospital in Prague on January 12, 2009, with an unspecified inflammation, and had developed breathing difficulties after undergoing minor throat surgery. He left office in 2003, 10 years after Czechoslovakia broke up, and just months before both nations joined the European Union. He was credited with laying the groundwork that brought his Czech Republic into the 27-nation bloc, and was president when it joined Nato in 1999. Havel, who once took Bill Clinton to a Prague jazz club and was also a friend of Mick Jagger, rose to fame by facing down Prague's communist regime when he demanded they respect at least their own human rights pledges.