Vaclav Havel, the playwright turned dissident who led Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, died on Sunday at the age of 75 after years of battling ill health.
“Today Vaclav Havel has left us,” said Sabina Tancevova, the former Czech president’s secretary, in a brief statement.
Mr Havel’s wife Dagmara was present when he died in his sleep at his weekend home in the north of the country.
Once a chain smoker, Mr Havel had suffered from respiratory and heart problems for years, but his health had declined recently to such an extent that public appearances became rare. He was last seen earlier this month, gaunt, frail and in a wheelchair meeting the Dalia Lama.
The Czech government will meet in an extraordinary session on Monday, and is expected to declare an official state of mourning. At Prague Castle, Mr Havel’s seat during his years as president, the Czech flag flew at half mast in respect for a man revered as the father of the modern state and an incorruptible force, always willing to defend human dignity.
At memorials to the 1989 revolution, well-wishers, some in tears, gathered to lay flowers and light candles.
A shy and softly spoken intellectual, Mr Havel became the figurehead of Czechoslovakia’s revolution after years of battling the communist establishment as a dissident, during which he was jailed three times.
His uncompromising stance on human rights and the need for peace helped to characterise the bloodless Velvet Revolution that swept away the mighty edifice of communist rule in Czechoslovakia in just a few dizzying days in November, 1989.
“Europe owes Vaclav Havel a profound debt,” said David Cameron, as tributes to the Czech statesman poured in from around the world. “Today his voice has fallen silent.”