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Sunday, 2 February, 2003, 14:03 GMT
Czech president bows out quietly
Czech President Vaclav Havel bids farewell at the end of a gala evening in Prague's National Theatre
President Havel will be a tough act to follow

The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, has begun his last day in office after 13 years at the top of Czech politics.

KEY DATES
1977: Becomes a spokesman of Charter 77 dissident movement
1989: Elected president of Czechoslovakia after collapse of Communism
1992: Loses battle to keep Czechoslovakia intact and resigns presidency
1993: Elected president of the new Czech Republic
2003: Retires at the end of second term as president
Mr Havel is widely respected across the world for his time as an outspoken critic of the Czechoslovak Communist regime, when he also spent nearly five years in prison for voicing his views.

In crisp winter sunshine, the playwright president has been making his final round of official duties.

One of Mr Havel's last acts in office was to lay flowers at the statue of Czechoslovakia's first President, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, and then at a monument to victims of communism.

It was a poignant moment given Mr Havel's own record as a dissident who spent almost five years as a political prisoner.

"Truth and love will prevail over lies and hatred"
Vaclav Havel
Click below to read more quotes

He also laid flowers at the statue of Saint Wenceslas, the Czech patron saint.

At each stop, a small group of well-wishers clapped.

This is a low key exit; nothing theatrical for the former dramatist whose work was banned by the communists.

But he went on to overthrow them in a peaceful revolution.

Political deadlock

Mr Havel is also receiving the prime minister and the speaker of parliament at Prague Castle. They are taking over his powers.

When the presidential standard is lowered from the battlements at midnight, the Czech Republic will be without a head of state.

Parliament has failed to agree on a successor to Mr Havel, further underlining his unique standing here.

Political parties are now making one last effort to find a compromise candidate who could win a vote in parliament.

The other option is rewriting the constitution, allowing the population to choose in a direct vote. But that could take months.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ray Furlong
"Opinion polls show that many Czechs now see him as a remote and distant figure"
See also:

02 Feb 03 | Europe
01 Feb 03 | Media reports
01 Feb 03 | From Our Own Correspondent
31 Jan 03 | Europe
14 Jan 03 | Europe
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