Vasil Bilak, hard-line communist leader, dies

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Vasil Bilak, a former hard-line communist leader who paved the way for Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, has died. He was 96.

Slovakia's Communist Party said Bilak died Tuesday in the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, where he lived. No cause of death was given. Bilak was among the communists who opposed Alexander Dubcek's attempts at reforming the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in late 1960s that became known as the Prague Spring. Bilak is better remembered as one of five communist leaders who wrote a letter inviting Soviet troops into the country that crushed the movement in 1968.

"The very existence of socialism in our country is threatened," the letter addressed to Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet Communist Party chief, urging him to use "all means you have in your disposal to help." Bilak was the last living author of the letter.

Vaclav Havel, who led the 1989 Velvet Revolution that ended more than 40 years of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, was given a copy of the letter by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1992. More than 100 people were killed in 1968 by the Soviet Union-led invasion of armies from five Warsaw Pact countries.

As a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, he played a major role in establishing the hard-line regime following the invasion. In the 1980s, Bilak opposed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms.

Bilak survived efforts to try him for his role in 1968. In 2011, the Slovak state prosecution dropped the case for lack of evidence. He was born Aug 11, 1917, in the village of Krajna Bystra in northeastern Slovakia.

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