Higgins hails Havel

He's holding his fire on North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, but President Michael D. Higgins had only glowing words for the former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, who died this week following an illness.

In a statement, President Higgins said it was "with deep sadness" that he heard of Mr. Havel's death.

"I was in correspondence with him in recent weeks but I also have the warmest memories of his visit to Ireland," said Higgins of Havel.

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"Through the inspiration of Vaclav's words, the courage of his dissidence and the integrity of his leadership, Czechoslovakia successfully transitioned from an authoritarian state to a free democracy at the heart of Europe. He also ensured that the later separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia was achieved peacefully and without compromising democratic values," the president said.

"On my own behalf, and behalf of the Irish people, I extend sincere condolences to President Klaus and to the Czech people. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam."

Former president Mary Robinson said it was with "deep sadness" that she learned of Havel's passing.

"It was always a joy to interact with Vaclav Havel, and I was honored to do so in many ways over many years.

"It was a particular honor to welcome him on a state visit to Ireland (1996) and remember with special warmth the evening we spent enjoying Irish music and song in Johnnie Fox's pub, perhaps not the usual sort of state visit venue, but absolutely right on that occasion," Robison said.