Washington, Dec 19 (IANS): US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have mourned the death of Vaclav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.
Havel became president of Czechoslovakia in December 1989 and served as the Czech Republic president from 1993 after Czechoslovakia split into two parts -- the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He led the Czech Republic for 10 years till 2003.
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing today (Sunday) of Vaclav Havel, a playwright and prisoner of conscience who became president of Czechoslovakia and of the Czech Republic," Xinhua quoted Obama as saying in a statement.
Havel, who besides being a playwright was also an essayist and a poet, died at the age of 75 following a long illness. He died in his sleep in his countryside home in Hradecek, the Czech News Agency said, quoting his secretary.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply saddened" by Havel's death.
Describing Havel as "the moral voice of his country and his era", Ban said in a statement that "in the face of great challenges today that shall test a newer generation, let his profile in courage be our inspiration".
Obama said: "His peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology, and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon."
The US president also praised Havel's "seminal role" in the so-called Velvet Revolution in 1989 against communist rule that won his people their freedom and "inspired generations to reach for self-determination and dignity in all parts of the world."
"He also embodied the aspirations of half a continent that had been cut off by the Iron Curtain, and helped unleash tides of history that led to a united and democratic Europe," said Obama.
He wrote over 20 plays and numerous non-fiction works that were translated internationally. He received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Order of Canada, the Ambassador of Conscience Award and several other distinctions.