News Column

World Bids Farewell to Thatcher

April 17, 2013

Helen Livingstone, dpa

Thousands of people lined the streets of London on Wednesday to say farewell to Britain's first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, even as a heated debate about her legacy continued.

Crowds applauded along the route of the funeral procession from Westminster to St Paul's Cathedral. Her coffin, draped in a Union Jack, was placed on a gun carriage pulled by six black horses for the last stretch.

The procession was led by a marching band, while more than 700 military personnel lined the route. Her pall-bearers were taken from regiments which served in the 1982 Falklands conflict.

"After the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm," said bishop of London Richard Chartres in his address.

He said that her funeral was "neither the time nor the place" for political debate. "Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings," he said.

Thatcher, who had helped plan the funeral including choosing her favourite hymns, had not wanted a memorial service with the usual eulogies.

Senior politicians from her years in office; the current cabinet; as well as her successors as prime minister, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Conservative incumbent David Cameron were all present at the service.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Queen Elizabeth II and the last South African president of the Apartheid era, FW de Klerk, were among the other 2,300 guests from 170 countries.

Passages from the Bible were read by Cameron and Thatcher's 19-year-old granddaughter, Amanda Thatcher. Music by Brahms, Elgar and Bach accompanied the service.

"Beloved mother - always in our hearts" read the card on a wreath of roses and other flowers on top of the coffin, with the names of her children, Carol and Mark Thatcher, written below.

The former Conservative premier died at the age of 87 last week following a stroke. She had been dogged by ill health for some years and was reportedly suffering from dementia.

Thatcher was the longest serving prime minister of the 20th century in Britain, in office from 1979 to 1990.

Some believe she "saved Britain" from economic decline and restored it to greatness as a world power, while others regarded her and her economic reforms as heartless and destructive.

"She came to power in a man's world and she won," said 58-year-old chef John Loughrey, who had spent the night outside St Paul's in order to secure a place to pay his respects.

"Everything she fought for, she won. She was a great politician. We were living in the dark and she brought us back to the light."

Several small groups of protesters were also present along the route.

Most had come to protest what they said was the Conservative government's "idolization" of Thatcher and the reported 10-million-pound (15-million-dollar) cost of the funeral.

"Spending 10 million pounds on such a divisive figure in times of austerity, especially when austerity is being imposed on the poor, is wrong," said 22-year-old student Dave Winslow, who was holding a placard reading "Rest of us in Poverty."

Protests, and parties, also took place in former mining communities in the north of England, where many regard Thatcher as having hastened the demise of their industry after her defeat of the unions in the 1980s.

"She destroyed our jobs, our communities, our youth's future and made an incessant attack on miners," said David Hopper, secretary general of the Durham Miners Association, which organized a celebration.

"We are here for a party and a good knees-up," he added. He wore a T-shirt bearing the slogan "A generation of trade unionists will dance on Thatcher's grave."

Cameron defended the ceremonial funeral and the full military honours accorded to Thatcher, saying: "People would find it odd if we didn't properly commemorate the passing of this extraordinary woman."

More than 4,000 police officers took part in the security operation. Police had to reassure the public regarding security after concerns were raised following the deaths of three people in a double bomb attack on the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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