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Vaclav Havel, Dissident Turned President, Dies at 75

Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright who led the struggle to bring down communism in Czechoslovakia, has died, news reports said. He was 75.

An assistant told the Associated Press that Havel, a longtime chain-smoker who had respiratory problems died Sunday morning at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic.

Havel, a noted playwright, was his country’s first democratically elected president after the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution” that ended four decades of repression.

He led the young country’s bumpy transition to democracy and a free-market economy, as well its 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which stands out for its peacefulness in a region where ethnic conflict killed thousands and sparked bloody civil wars.

Havel was also credited with helping to bring down the Iron Curtain across all of eastern Europe and turned the region into a pro-Western bulwark against totalitiarianism.

Havel had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years imprisoned by the Communist regime. He was hospitalized in 2009, with an unspecified inflammation, and had developed breathing difficulties after undergoing minor throat surgery.

Havel left office in 2003, 10 years after Czechoslovakia broke up and months before both nations joined the European Union.

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