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Britain bids farewell to 'Iron Lady' Thatcher

Dignitaries from around the world join the Queen in remembering one of Britain's most divisive prime ministers.

Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 23:02
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Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest on Wednesday with military pageantry and pockets of protests, in a funeral that reflected the polarising impact of Britain's longest-serving post-war prime minister.

Queen Elizabeth II led mourners from the British establishment and 170 countries in bidding farewell to the Iron Lady, who transformed Britain and is credited with helping end the Cold War.

Baroness Thatcher's coffin was driven from the parliament to the church of St Clement Danes for prayers before the former leader's full funeral at St Paul's Cathedral.

Dozens of people camped out overnight near the 17th-century cathedral hoping to catch a glimpse of Thatcher's flag-draped coffin and its military escort, and hundreds had arrived hours before the funeral was due to start.

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

Flags on government buildings were lowered to half-staff across the country before the service, but not all Britons were joining in the mourning. Hundreds of political opponents staged a silent protest by turning their backs as the coffin went by.

At the cathedral, the queen led the 2,300 mourners in a rare tribute -- she had not attended a prime ministerial funeral since Winston Churchill died in 1965.

Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of Thatcher's Conservative party, joined politicians from across the political spectrum including former premiers John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Global figures including Thatcher's fellow Cold War warrior Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state, and showbusiness stars Joan Collins and Shirley Bassey also attended.

In his address, Bishop of London Richard Chartres acknowledged the debate that still rages over Thatcher's policies but said she deserved compassion at her funeral.

"After the storm of a life led in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm," he said.

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

'Fitting tribute'

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

There is no eulogy, and that was Mrs Thatcher's decision. It's not being triumphalist. It's not a celebration of her life and her achievements

David Cameron, UK prime minister

Thatcher is being given a ceremonial funeral - not officially a state funeral, which requires a vote in Parliament. Still, the proceedings will feature the same level of pomp and honour afforded to Princess Diana in 1997 and the Queen Mother Elizabeth in 2002.

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

Retired teacher Henry Page stood outside the cathedral on Wednesday morning bearing a sign in protest at the funeral's reported $15 million cost - "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".

The dean of Saint Paul's, David Ison, has acknowledged the funeral has divided opinion, but said the service itself would be a somber affair.

"There is no tribute," he said. "There is no eulogy, and that was Mrs Thatcher's decision. It's not being triumphalist. It's not a celebration of her life and her achievements."

Some high profile guests sent their regrets: Former First Lady Nancy Reagan - whose husband Ronald had a close relationship with Thatcher – will not be able to attend; nor will former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who shared key moments in history with the late prime minister. Germany's Angela Merkel was sending her foreign minister, while the American political power families the Clintons and the Bushes declined to attend.

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