NEW INFORMATION: Britain's Iron Lady laid to rest with full pomp

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

LONDON (AP) -- Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Iron Lady, was laid to rest Wednesday with a level of pomp and protest reflecting her status as a commanding, polarizing political figure.

Queen Elizabeth II, prime ministers and dignitaries from 170 countries were among the mourners at St. Paul's Cathedral, where Bishop of London Richard Chartres spoke of the strong feelings the former prime minister still evokes 23 years after leaving office.

"The storm of conflicting opinions centers on the Mrs. Thatcher who became a symbolic figure - even an -ism," he said. "Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service."

"There is an important place for debating policies and legacy ... but here and today is neither the time nor the place."

More than 700 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel lined the route taken by Thatcher's coffin to the cathedral and around 4,000 police officers were on duty. Security was stepped up after Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 170.

Spectators lining the route broke into applause - and scattered boos - as the carriage passed by, escorted by young soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Some clearly disagreed with the bishop's exhortation to leave politics at home. Some staged silent protests by turning their backs on Thatcher's coffin. One man held a banner declaring "Rest in shame." Arguments also broke out in the crowd along the route between Thatcher supporters and opponents.

Guests inside the cathedral included Thatcher's political colleagues and rivals and her successors as prime minister - John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Vice President Dick Cheney were among the American dignitaries, while figures from Thatcher's era included F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era leader of South Africa; former Polish President Lech Walesa; ex-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and entertainers including "Dynasty" star Joan Collins, singer Shirley Bassey and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The ceremony was traditional, dignified and very British. Mourners entered to music by British composers including Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the service featured hymns and readings chosen by Thatcher, who grew up as a grocer's daughter in a hard-working Methodist household.

There was a passage from T.S. Eliot, a section of Gabriel Faure's "Requiem" and the patriotic hymn "I Vow to Thee, My Country" - also played at the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana.

The late leader's 19-year-old granddaughter Amanda Thatcher read a passage from Ephesians: "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness."

It was a classic Thatcher image, capturing what people loved and loathed about a leader full of strength and certainty.

The dean of St. Paul's, David Ison, recalled "her courage, her steadfastness and her resolve to accomplish what she believed to be right for the common good."

Afterwards, a crowd gathered outside cheered and applauded as the coffin was carried out to the half-muffled peal of the cathedral bells. Thatcher will be cremated, in keeping with her wishes.

Before the service, Thatcher's coffin was driven from the Houses of Parliament to the church of St. Clement Danes, about half a mile from the cathedral, for prayers.

From there the coffin - draped in a Union flag and topped with white roses and a note from her children reading "Beloved mother, always in our hearts" - was borne on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses from the Royal Horse Artillery to the cathedral.

The woman nicknamed the Iron Lady transformed Britain during her 11-year tenure from 1979 to 1990, privatizing state industries, deregulating the economy, and causing upheaval whose impact is still felt. She died on April 8 at age 87.

Thatcher was given a ceremonial funeral with military honors - not officially a state funeral, which requires a vote in Parliament - but proceedings that featured the same level of pomp and honor afforded Princess Diana in 1997 and the Queen Mother Elizabeth in 2002.

That has raised the ire of some Britons who believe her legacy is a socially and economically divided nation.

"Like anyone else she deserves a decent funeral, but not at the expense of the taxpayer," said protester Patricia Welsh, 69.

But dozens camped out overnight near the 17th-century cathedral in hopes of catching a glimpse of Thatcher's flag-draped coffin and its military escort, and hundreds more arrived in the hours before the funeral.

"I came to commemorate the greatest hero of our modern age," said 25-year-old Anthony Boutall, clutching a blue rose. "She took a nation on its knees and breathed new life into it."

An honor guard of soldiers in scarlet tunics and bearskin hats saluted the coffin as it approached the cathedral, while red-coated veterans known as Chelsea Pensioners stood to attention on the steps.

Also present was retired teacher Henry Page, who stood outside the cathedral protesting the funeral's reported $15 million cost with a sign: "Over 10 million pounds of our money for a Tory funeral!"

Prime Minister David Cameron insisted the ceremony was "a fitting tribute to a great prime minister respected around the world."

Some high-profile guests did not attend, including former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan - whose husband Ronald had a close relationship with Thatcher - and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Germany's Angela Merkel sent her foreign minister and the Clintons and the Bushes declined to attend.

Alicia Castro, Argentina's ambassador to the U.K., also snubbed her invite. Thatcher went to war in 1982 to retake the Falkland Islands after Argentina invaded the remote British territory off the South American coast.
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LONDON (AP) -- Global leaders expressed praise and admiration Monday for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as news spread of her death. Today's British leader, David Cameron, summed up the consensus from friend and foe alike that the Iron Lady was "a great Briton."

"As our first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds," Cameron said in Madrid as he cut short a trip to Spain and canceled a visit to France to return home to lead funeral preparations for the longtime leader of his Conservative Party.

"The real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country," Cameron said, "and I believe she'll go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister."

As flags across the United Kingdom were lowered to half mast, Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II would send a private message of sympathy to the Thatcher family.

Across Europe and the world, leaders lauded Thatcher for her steely determination to modernize Britain's industrial landscape -- even at the cost of violent strikes and riots -- and to stand beside the United States as the west triumphed in the Cold War versus the Soviet Union.

In Poland, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said his country should erect a statue of the British leader. In a tweet he praised Thatcher as "a fearless champion of liberty, stood up for captive nations, helped free world win the Cold War."

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ousted the Conservatives from power seven years after Thatcher's resignation, conceded that Thatcher had been right to challenge labor union power -- the traditional bedrock for Blair's own Labour Party.

"Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast," said Blair, who credited Thatcher with being "immensely supportive" despite their opposing views on many issues.

"You could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain's national life," Blair said.

Discordant notes came from Northern Ireland and Argentina, where Thatcher's reputation for unbending determination received early tests -- when breaking an Irish Republican Army prison hunger strike in 1981, then leading Britain into a 1982 war to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.

Argentina's government offered no official reaction, but scores of Argentinians posted criticisms of her on Twitter, blaming her for the deaths of 649 Argentine troops during the South Atlantic conflict. Some 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders also died.

Falklands lawmaker Mike Summers said Thatcher was "one of very few political leaders who could have mounted the expedition she mounted in 1982 to restore our freedom, and from a Falkland Islands perspective she will be forever remembered for that."

Britain's pop culture icons past and present also sounded off about the woman who dominated British political landscape through the 1980s.

"Thinking of our 1st Lady of girl power, Margaret Thatcher, a green grocer's daughter who taught me anything is possible," tweeted a former member of the Spice Girls band, Geri Halliwell.
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LONDON (AP) -- Love her or loathe her, one thing's beyond dispute: Margaret Thatcher transformed Britain.

The Iron Lady who ruled for 11 remarkable years imposed her will on a fractious, rundown nation - breaking the unions, triumphing in a far-off war, and selling off state industries at a record pace. She left behind a leaner government and more prosperous nation by the time a mutiny ousted her from No. 10 Downing Street.

Thatcher's spokesman, Tim Bell, said the former prime minister died Monday morning of a stroke. She was 87.

Flags were at half-mast at Buckingham Palace, Parliament and Downing Street as a show of respect.

The British government said Thatcher will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honors. It was unclear when the service would be held.

Queen Elizabeth II authorized the ceremonial funeral - a step short of a state funeral - to be held at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The service will be followed by a private cremation.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a trip to Spain and France upon hearing the news.

For admirers, Thatcher was a savior who rescued Britain from ruin and laid the groundwork for an extraordinary economic renaissance. For critics, she was a heartless tyrant who ushered in an era of greed that kicked the weak out onto the streets and let the rich become filthy rich.

"Let us not kid ourselves, she was a very divisive figure," said Bernard Ingham, Thatcher's press secretary for her entire term. "She was a real toughie. She was a patriot with a great love for this country, and she raised the standing of Britain abroad."

Thatcher was the first - and still only - female prime minister in Britain's history. But she often found feminists tiresome and was not above using her handbag as a prop to underline her swagger and power. A grocer's daughter, she rose to the top of Britain's snobbish hierarchy the hard way, and envisioned a classless society that rewarded hard work and determination.

She was a trailblazer who at first believed trailblazing impossible: Thatcher told the Liverpool Daily Post in 1974 that she did not think a woman would serve as party leader or prime minister during her lifetime.

But once in power, she never showed an ounce of doubt.

Thatcher could be intimidating to those working for her: British diplomats sighed with relief on her first official visit to Washington, D.C., as prime minister to find that she was relaxed enough to enjoy a glass of whiskey and a half-glass of wine during an embassy lunch, according to official documents.

Like her close friend and political ally Ronald Reagan, Thatcher seemed motivated by an unshakable belief that free markets would build a better country than reliance on a strong, central government. Another thing she shared with the American president: a tendency to reduce problems to their basics, choose a path, and follow it to the end, no matter what the opposition.

She formed a deep attachment to the man she called "Ronnie" - some spoke of it as a schoolgirl crush. Still, she would not back down when she disagreed with him on important matters, even though the United States was the richer and vastly stronger partner in the so-called "special relationship."

Thatcher was at her brashest when Britain was challenged. When Argentina's military junta seized the remote Falklands Islands from Britain in 1982, she did not hesitate, even though her senior military advisers said it might not be feasible to reclaim the islands.

She simply would not allow Britain to be pushed around, particularly by military dictators, said Ingham, who recalls the Falklands War as the tensest period of Thatcher's three terms in power. When diplomacy failed, she dispatched a military task force that accomplished her goal, despite the naysayers.

"That required enormous leadership," Ingham said. "This was a formidable undertaking, this was a risk with a capital R-I-S-K, and she demonstrated her leadership by saying she would give the military their marching orders and let them get on with it."

In deciding on war, Thatcher overruled Foreign Office specialists who warned her about the dangers of striking back. She was infuriated by warnings about the dangers to British citizens in Argentina and the difficulty of getting support from the U.N. Security Council.

"When you are at war you cannot allow the difficulties to dominate your thinking: you have to set out with an iron will to overcome them," she said in her memoir, "Downing Street Years." `'And anyway what was the alternative? That a common or garden dictator should rule over the queen's subjects and prevail by fraud and violence? Not while I was prime minister."

Thatcher's determination to reclaim the islands brought her into conflict with Reagan, who dispatched Secretary of State Alexander Haig on a shuttle mission to London and Buenos Aires to seek a peaceful solution, even as British warships approached the Falklands.

A private diary kept by U.S. diplomat Jim Rentschler captures Thatcher at this crisis point.

"And here's Maggie, appearing in a flower-decorated salon adjoining the small dining room (...) sipping orange juice and sherry," Rentschler wrote. "La Thatcher is really quite fetching in a dark velvet two-piece ensemble with grosgrain piping and a soft hairdo that heightens her blond English coloring."

But the niceties faded over the dinner table.

"High color is in her cheeks, a note of rising indignation in her voice, she leans across the polished table and flatly rejects what she calls the `woolliness' of our secondstage formulation," Rentschler writes.

Needless to say, Haig's peace mission soon collapsed.

The relatively quick triumph of British forces revived Thatcher's political fortunes, which had been faltering along with the British economy. She won an overwhelming victory in 1983, tripling her majority in the House of Commons.

She trusted her gut instinct, famously concluding early on that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev represented a clear break in the Soviet tradition of autocratic rulers. She pronounced that the West could "do business" with him, a position that influenced Reagan's vital dealings with Gorbachev in the twilight of the Soviet era.

It was heady stuff for a woman who had little training in foreign affairs when she triumphed over a weak field of indecisive Conservative Party candidates to take over the party leadership in 1975 and ultimately run as the party's candidate for prime minister.

She profited from the enormous crisis facing the Labour Party government led by Harold Wilson and later James Callaghan. Britain was near economic collapse, its currency propped up by the International Monetary Fund, and its once defiant spirit seemingly broken.

The sagging Labour government had no parliamentary majority after 1977, and the next year it suffered through a "winter of discontent" with widespread strikes disrupting vital public services, including hospital care and even grave digging. The government's effort to hold the line on inflation led to chaos in the streets.

Britain seemed adrift, no longer a credible world power, falling from second- to third-tier status.

It was then, Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, that she came to the unshakable, almost mystical belief that only she could save Britain. She cited a deep "inner conviction" that this would be her role.

Events seemed to be moving her way when she led the Conservative Party to victory in 1979, with a commitment to reduce the state's role and champion private enterprise.

She was underestimated at first - by her own party, by the media, later by foreign adversaries. But they all soon learned to respect her. Thatcher's "Iron Lady" nickname was coined by Soviet journalists, a grudging testament to her ferocious will and determination.

Thatcher set about upending decades of liberal doctrine, successfully challenging Britain's welfare state and socialist traditions, in the process becoming the reviled bete noire of the country's leftwing intelligentsia.

She is perhaps best remembered for her hardline position during the pivotal strike in 1984 and 1985 when she faced down coal miners in an ultimately successful bid to break the power of Britain's unions. It was a reshaping of the British economic and political landscape that endures to this day.

It is for this that she is revered by free-market conservatives, who say the restructuring of the economy led to a boom that made London the rival of New York as a global financial center. The left demonized her as an implacably hostile union buster, with stone-cold indifference to the poor. But her economic philosophy eventually crossed party lines: Tony Blair led a revamped Labour Party to victory by adopting some of her ideas.

Thatcher was the West's most outspoken opponent of imposing economic sanctions on South Africa's minority government to end apartheid. She contended such sanctions cost jobs, including in Britain, hurt South Africa's black majority most and harden white resistance to change.

In 1986, Britain's Cabinet unanimously supported her resistance to such sanctions. As a result, protests ensued and many accused her of supporting the apartheid regime.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on Oct. 13, 1925. She learned the values of thrift, discipline and industry as the dutiful daughter of Alfred Roberts, a grocer and Methodist lay preacher who eventually became the mayor of Grantham, a modest-sized town in Lincolnshire 110 miles (180 kilometers) north of London.

Thatcher's personality, like that of so many of her contemporaries, was shaped in part by the traumatic events during her childhood. When World War II broke out, her hometown was one of the early targets for Luftwaffe bombs. Her belief in the need to stand up to aggressors was rooted in the failure of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's attempt to appease Adolf Hitler rather than confront him.

Thatcher said she learned much about the world simply by studying her father's business. She grew up in the family's apartment just above the shop.

"Before I read a line from the great liberal economists, I knew from my father's accounts that the free market was like a vast sensitive nervous system, responding to events and signals all over the world to meet the ever-changing needs of peoples in different countries, from different classes, of different religions, with a kind of benign indifference to their status," she wrote in her memoirs.

"The economic history of Britain for the next 40 years confirmed and amplified almost every item of my father's practical economics. In effect, I had been equipped at an early age with the ideal mental outlook and tools of analysis for reconstructing an economy ravaged by state socialism."

Educated at Oxford, Thatcher began her political career in her mid-20s with an unsuccessful 1950 campaign for a parliamentary seat in the Labour Party stronghold of Dartford. She earned nationwide publicity as the youngest female candidate in the country, despite her loss at the polls.

She was defeated again the next year, but on the campaign trail she met Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman whom she married in 1951. Their twins, Mark and Carol, were born two years later.

"She was beautiful, gay, very kind and thoughtful," Denis Thatcher said in an interview 25 years later. "Who could meet Margaret without being completely slain by her personality and intellectual brilliance?"

As the first male Downing Street spouse, Denis Thatcher stayed out of the limelight to a large degree while supporting his wife on her many travels and public engagements. He was said to give her important behind-the-scenes advice on Cabinet choices and other personnel matters, but this role was not publicly discussed.

Margaret Thatcher first won election to Parliament in 1959, representing Finchley in north London. She climbed the Conservative Party ladder quickly, joining the Cabinet as education secretary in 1970.

In that post, she earned the unwanted nickname "Thatcher the milk snatcher" because of her reduction of school milk programs. It was a taste of battles to come.

As prime minister, she sold off one state industry after another: British Telecom, British Gas, Rolls-Royce, British Airways, British Coal, British Steel, the water companies and the electricity distribution system among them. She was proud of her government's role in privatizing some public housing, turning tenants into homeowners.

She ruffled feathers simply by being herself. She had faith - sometimes blind faith - in the clarity of her vision and little use for those of a more cautious mien.

Success in the Falklands War set the stage for a pivotal fight with the National Union of Miners, which began a 51-week strike in March 1984 to oppose the government's plans to close a number of mines.

The miners battled police on picket lines but couldn't beat Thatcher, and returned to work without gaining any concessions.

She survived an audacious 1984 assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army that nearly succeeded. The IRA detonated a bomb in her hotel in Brighton during a party conference, killing and injuring senior government figures, but leaving the prime minister and her husband unharmed.

Thatcher won a third term in another landslide in 1987, but may have become overconfident.

She trampled over cautionary advice from her own ministers in 1989 and 1990 by imposing a hugely controversial "community charge" tax that was quickly dubbed a "poll tax" by opponents. It was designed to move Britain away from a property tax and instead imposed a flat rate tax on every adult except for retirees and people who were registered unemployed.

That decision may have been a sign that hubris was undermining Thatcher's political acumen. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in London and other cities, leading to some of the worst riots in the British capital for more than a century.

The shocking sight of Trafalgar Square turned into a smoldering battleground on March 31, 1990, helped convince many Conservative figures that Thatcher had stayed too long.

"How could a leader who was wise make 13 million people pay a tax they had never paid before? It just showed that she was no longer thinking in a rational way," one of her junior ministers, David Mellor, said in a BBC documentary.

For Conservatives in Parliament, it was a question of survival. They feared vengeful voters would turn them out of office at the next election, and for many that fear trumped any gratitude they might have felt for their longtime leader.

Eight months after the riots, Thatcher was gone, struggling to hold back tears as she left Downing Street after being ousted by her own party.

It was a bitter end for Thatcher's active political career - her family said she felt a keen sense of betrayal even years later.

In 1992, she was appointed in the House of Lords, taking the title Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.

Thatcher wrote several best-selling memoirs after leaving office and was a frequent speaker on the international circuit before she suffered several small strokes that in 2002 led her to curtail her lucrative public speaking career.

Denis Thatcher died the following year; they had been married more than a half century.

Thatcher's later years were marred by her son Mark Thatcher's murky involvement in bankrolling a 2004 coup in Equatorial Guinea. He was fined and received a suspended sentence for his role in the tawdry affair.

She suffered from dementia in her final years, and her public appearances became increasingly rare.

She is survived by her two children, Mark Thatcher and Carol Thatcher, and her grandchildren.


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