PARIS: Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl and Bill Clinton were among the former friends and foes who joined in tributes to Margaret Thatcher, praising the fearlessness and fierce determination of an “iconic” leader.
The “Iron Lady” was a polarising figure in Britain and beyond, but foreign leaders on Monday were unanimous in acknowledging her place in 20th-century history, with President Barack Obama mourning a “true friend of America”.
Former German chancellor Kohl, considered the father of Germany's 1990 reunification, said he “greatly valued Margaret Thatcher for her love of freedom, her incomparable openness, honesty and straightforwardness”.
Pope Francis said he recalled “with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations.”
Gerry Adams, leader of the Sinn Fein republican party, said she had played a “shameful role” in the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
But on Monday most reaction to her death - at least from leaders abroad - was positive.
In Brussels, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso paid tribute to Thatcher's “contributions” to the growth of the European Union, despite her deep skepticism over increasing ties with Europe.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak called her “a formidable figure on the world stage,” adding that she inspired many with “her strong leadership and sense of conviction.”
Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard hailed her for helping to shatter the glass ceiling for women in politics. “Her service as the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom was a history-making achievement,” Gillard said in a statement.
South Korea's first female president, Park Geun-hye - an avowed admirer of Thatcher - also paid tribute to a leader she said revived the British economy and led her nation to “an era of hope in the 1980s”.
Nancy Reagan, the wife of the late US president Ronald Reagan, said that “Ronnie and Margaret were political soulmates, committed to freedom and resolved to end communism”.
Former president Clinton hailed her as an “iconic stateswoman” who lived a “remarkable life as she broke barriers, defied expectations, and led her country”.
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari expressed profound grief over the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and described her the most influential politician of her times.
“We share their loss,” the President said and added “in Baroness Thatcher's passing away, Britain has lost a great leader.”
British lawmakers gather to honour Thatcher
LONDON: Britain's lawmakers will gather for a special session of parliament on Wednesday to debate the legacy of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose death on Monday exposed bitterly divided views on the Iron Lady's 11 years in power.
Fellow Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron will lead proceedings, while the head of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, and Labour leader Ed Miliband are also expected to pay their respects.
But firebrand foes such as independent George Galloway have vowed to stay away in protest at Thatcher's often divisive policies.
Queen Elizabeth II will lead mourners at Thatcher's funeral next week, the first time the monarch will have attended the ceremony of one of her former prime ministers since Winston Churchill died in 1965.
Tributes from world leaders who hailed the role of the “Iron Lady” in bringing down communism kept flooding in as the British government announced that the funeral would be next Wednesday at St Paul's Cathedral in London.
Speculation mounted on Tuesday that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ex-US first lady Nancy Reagan would be invited to the ceremonial funeral, one step down from the state funeral given to Churchill, but the same honour afforded to the Queen Mother and to Princess Diana.
But Thatcher remained as polarising in death as she did in life, with violence erupting at street parties celebrating the passing of a figure who critics say destroyed millions of lives with her free-market economic policies.
Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister and longest serving premier of the 20th century, died on Monday aged 87 after suffering a stroke. She had suffered from dementia for more than a decade.
Foreign Secretary William Hague, a fellow Conservative, told a briefing on Tuesday ahead of a meeting with G8 counterparts that Britain was grateful for the condolences from around the world.
“She was an inspiration to many people in other countries, not just this country, particularly people aspiring to their own freedom and democracy at a time they didn't have it, such as behind the Iron Curtain,” Hague said.
Cameron's office said the government had agreed during a meeting with Thatcher's family and Buckingham Palace on April 17 for her funeral, followed by a private cremation.
“A wide and diverse range of people and groups with connections to Lady Thatcher will be invited,” it said.
The queen and her husband Prince Philip will attend, Buckingham Palace said. The monarch does not usually attend funerals or memorial services of non-royals.
Thatcher's coffin will rest in the Houses of Parliament the night before the funeral and will be taken through the London streets on a gun carriage to the cathedral with full military honours.
Several Conservative lawmakers have called for her to receive a full state funeral but her spokesman Lord Tim Bell said Thatcher had specifically said such an observance was “not appropriate”.
A private ambulance accompanied by police motorcycle outriders removed Thatcher's body early Tuesday from the luxury Ritz hotel in central London where she had spent the last days of her life, an AFP photographer reported.
'Cult of greed'
But her legacy - encompassing brutal clashes with miners, the crushing of the trade unions, violent poll tax riots and the Falklands War with Argentina - remains as divisive in 2013 as it was during her premiership from 1979 to 1990.
Even in her home town of Grantham, eastern England, where she was born to a humble grocer and his wife, opinion was sharply split.
“I am glad she is dead ... She closed down the mines and bought the coal from communist countries, our enemies,” said 39-year-old Michael Blocksidge outside the town's guildhall, where the flag flew at half mast as it does over the parliament and Buckingham Palace.
Trouble erupted at several parties to celebrate her death in south London, Bristol in southwest England and Glasgow in Scotland, reminiscent of the sometimes violent protests during her time in office in the 1980s.
In Bristol six police officers were injured, one seriously, bottles and cans were thrown at officers and fires were started in bins.
Britain's newspapers were similarly divided even if they were unanimous on the extent of Thatcher's impact. Right-wing titles carried effusive praise, with the Daily Telegraph calling her a “champion of freedom for workers, nations and the world.” But the left-wing Guardian said she promoted a “cult of greed”.
Thatcher's death brings joy for miners she defeated
ARMTHORPE: Mention the death of Margaret Thatcher in one of the “working men's clubs” frequented by former coal miners in northern England, and you will be met with roars of approval.
It has been 28 years since her Conservative government crushed the miners' year-long strike, ending one of the most bitter industrial battles in British history. But in the South Yorkshire village of Armthorpe and others like it, the anger remains as visceral as ever.
“Good riddance!” shouted one former miner from a corner of Armthorpe's dingy club, where men with weathered faces and tattooed fingers sat nursing pints on Tuesday.
On a table, the face of Britain's first and only female prime minister beamed out from the front page of a discarded newspaper, a day after she died at age 87.
“We'll use that for toilet paper,” another drinker said to gales of laughter.
'The enemy within'
The 1984-85 strike by tens of thousands of miners was one of the defining events of Thatcher's time in power. Its violence horrified the public as militant strikers clashed with riot police, sometimes in “battles” with thousands on each side.
The dispute pitted the Iron Lady - who wanted to close dozens of loss-making coal pits - against one of her greatest foes, the miners' firebrand leader Arthur Scargill. And it bitterly divided the miners themselves as thousands in some areas opted to stay at work. Several people were killed, including a taxi driver murdered in Wales for taking a non-striking miner to a coal pit.
The strikers, famously described by Thatcher as “the enemy within”, suffered desperate hardship during a year without work. Ultimately, their gamble failed. Thatcher's government had built up huge supplies of coal and was able to starve them out.
The walkout ended on March 3, 1985, almost exactly a year after it started. Some returned to the coal pits in tears. Thatcher wrote in her memoirs that the strikers “wanted to defy the law of the land in order to defy the laws of economics. They failed.”
It was a stunning defeat for Scargill's once-formidable National Union of Mineworkers, leading to the virtual end of deep coal mining in Britain as dozens of pits were gradually shut down. In 1984 Britain had around 170 working coal mines employing nearly 200,000 workers. Today there are just a handful of mines, employing some 2,000 people.
'Thatcher destroyed this place'
Armthorpe was among the victims, losing its 76-year-old Markham Main Colliery in 1996. A housing estate was built on the site. Today, one of the few visible reminders of the village's mining history is a huge wheel from the pit that stands as a memorial along the main road. Its former employees remember 1985 with grim faces. Riot police, at one point, formed a ring around the village and clashes followed.
“Thatcher destroyed this place,” said 63-year-old George Fletcher, a former pit supervisor, as he sat with mates at the Armthorpe Social Club opposite the memorial.
“My dad was a miner, his dad was a miner,” he said. “But Margaret Thatcher didn't like the working man. She worked for London. And she made a lot of people's lives hell.”
Behind him, a younger man took a front-page photograph of Thatcher and screwed it up with clenched fists. The miners express pride at how their close-knit community struggled together through the strike, often pooling food and other resources in an effort that seemed antithetical to Thatcher's individualistic vision of Britain.
The village baker, they recall with deep gratitude, went bankrupt providing food for the strikers on credit. But today there's a depressed air about the place, with many former miners complaining that they and their children have difficulty finding work after the demise of the place that provided generations with employment.
“Young 'uns here, they've nowt (nothing) to do,” said George Kennedy, 55, who worked at the pit for two decades before he was laid off with breathing problems.
Geoff Smith, a trustee of Armthorpe's Working Men's Club, said Thatcher's triumph and the shutdown of the mining industry had “decimated” his village, and many others like it. “You've got to blame her for everything that's gone wrong here - drug problems, fighting,” he told AFP. He expects the miners to arrange a party at the club to coincide with Thatcher's funeral next Wednesday.
“If they do, I'll drink with them,” he said. “And if she's going to cremated,” he added with a cackle, “I'm sorry to say it - but if there's no coal to do it with, it's her fault!”
Murdoch lauds 'brave' Thatcher
LONDON: Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday paid tribute to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, crediting her with giving him the strength to face down print unions in the 1980s.
Writing in the Times, one of his News International titles, Murdoch called Thatcher, who died on Monday aged 87, “the woman who gave us back our backbone” and “undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the 20th century”.
“I found her attitude an inspiration in my business life - and never more so than when faced with the recalcitrance of the print unions in the 1980s,” he wrote.
Printers were angered by Murdoch's decision to shift production of his newspapers to a hi-tech, less labour intensive, site in east London in 1986. The controversial businessman said Thatcher had swept away Britain's post-war “dependency state”, which he claimed had “killed off aspiration”.
“Mrs Thatcher understood that risk was a vital ingredient in a free enterprise society,” he wrote. “She held firm in pursuit of her belief in aspiration, in the power of individual people to make the most of their talents to improve their own lives and those of their families and of society.”
“Thanks to her I have experienced in Britain many of my defining moments as a businessman, a Britain that is far more successful as a result of her brave leadership,” he added.
Anti-Thatcher song heads to top of UK charts
LONDON: “Ding Dong! The witch is dead”, as sung by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, on Tuesday raced to the top of the Amazon download chart in Britain, a day after the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Another version sung by jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald placed at number four and also topped the iTunes UK vocal chart as record-buyers passed their judgement on the legacy of Thatcher, who died of a stroke on Monday aged 87.
The records' success comes on the back of a Facebook campaign celebrating the death of the divisive leader.
The Official Charts Company, which collates sales from all outlets, predicts that the “macabre sense of humour of British music fans” will give the 1939 record a top 40 placing in their weekly chart.
“The leading contender by Judy Garland is likely to move into the Official Singles Chart Top 40 in its own right by Sunday if it maintains its current momentum,” it said.
SAfricans: Did Thatcher help or hinder apartheid?
JOHANNESBURG: Nineteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africans are still passionately divided over whether Margaret Thatcher helped or hindered the cruel system of white rule and prolonged the incarceration of Nelson Mandela.
The heated discussions triggered by Thatcher's death show how influential South Africans believe she was on the fate of the last bastion of white-minority rule in Africa.
The former British leader supported the apartheid government when it was at its deadliest, killing many in the late 1980s in state terrorism at home and abroad in bombings and cross-border raids on neighboring states accused of harboring guerrilla fighters, said Pallo Jordan, a former Cabinet minister and stalwart of the governing African National Congress.
''Maggie Thatcher and Britain were important figures ... they were defending (apartheid) South Africa, they were preventing international sanctions,'' said Jordan to The Associated Press.
''Many lives were lost (as a result of the apartheid regime). I don't think it's a great loss to the world,'' Jordan said of Thatcher's death. ''I say good riddance,'' he said Tuesday on South Africa's Talk Radio 702.
Thatcher branded Mandela and his ANC movement ''terrorist'', amid concerns that they received backing from the former Soviet Union during the Cold War era and because of their guerrilla war for democracy.
Jordan was at Mandela's first meeting with Thatcher after his release from 27 years in jail, at Downing Street in London in 1990.
''What amused the old man (Mandela) more than anything else was that here she was engaging in a conversation with this man that she thought an arch-terrorist.''
He said Mandela's inherent charm disarmed ''the Iron Lady'', and the meeting passed without confrontation. Thatcher's spokesman said in 1987 that anyone who thought the ANC, then the leading anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, would govern South Africa was ''living in cloud cuckoo-land.''
But others argue that Thatcher was strongly opposed to apartheid and racism and helped influence the white government to free Mandela.
''Thatcher did more to release Nelson Mandela out of prison than any of the other hundreds of anti-apartheid committees in Europe,'' Pik Botha, the last foreign minister of the apartheid regime, said Tuesday on Talk Radio 702 in Johannesburg.
F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president of South Africa, said in a statement that Thatcher, whom he called a friend, was ''a steadfast critic of apartheid.'' He said she had a better grasp of the complexities and realities of South Africa than many of her contemporaries.
''She exerted more influence in what happened in South Africa than any other political leader,'' de Klerk said. He said Thatcher ''correctly believed'' that more could be achieved through constructive engagement with his government than international sanctions and isolation of the South African government.
Thatcher argued that sanctions were immoral because they would throw thousands of South African blacks out of work. Her stance allowed British companies to continue operating in apartheid South Africa, where the United Kingdom was the biggest trading partner and foreign investor.
Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda berated Thatcher bitterly at a 1986 Commonwealth conference where she refused to join six nations including Australia and Canada in imposing a package of sanctions against South Africa.
Kaunda told reporters Thatcher cut a ''very pathetic picture indeed'' and accused her of ''worshipping gold, platinum and the rest'' on offer from South Africa. It was a far cry from his amused references to Thatcher as ''my dancing partner'' after the two famously waltzed at a 1979 Commonwealth summit of Britain and its former colonies in Livingstone, Zambia.
The rapport engendered there led Thatcher to help resolve the impasse in Rhodesia's 7-year war. With Australian negotiators, she persuaded the warring parties to sign a peace settlement that ended that country's white-minority rule and installed Robert Mugabe as leader of a democratic Zimbabwe in 1980.
Mugabe, now derided for destroying the economy of his country through violent and illegal grabs of white-owned farmlands, always enjoyed a collegial relationship with Thatcher. He said he admired her and that she was easier to deal with than Tony Blair who later became prime minister for Labour Party.
But Britain's government under Thatcher ignored the killings of an estimated 20,000 Zimbabwean civilians of the minority Ndebele tribe, prompted by an uprising of dissident, that lasted from 1982 to 1987. Queen Elizabeth II even gave Mugabe a knighthood after the massacres. Donald Trelford, editor of The Observer newspaper in London, later charged that Thatcher and her Foreign Office were more concerned about their relations with Mugabe than with human rights.
Only after thousands of white farmers were driven off their land and more than a dozen killed did the queen strip Mugabe of his knighthood in 2008. Thatcher finally was forced to impose sanctions against South Africa by following the lead of the US Congress, which in 1986 passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, overriding Reagan's presidential veto after South Africa attacked Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana on the same day, recalled Pallo Jordan.
The official ANC statement on Thatcher's passing was surprisingly restrained, perhaps reflecting an African tradition of respect for the dead.
"She was one of the strong leaders in Britain and Europe, to an extent that some of her policies dominate discourse in the public service structures of the world," said ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu, referring to her view that the apartheid regime was a bulwark against communism. "Her passing signals the end of a generation of leaders that ruled during a very difficult period characterised by the dynamics of the Cold War."
Thatcher, female trailblazer who promoted few women
LONDON: Margaret Thatcher once said she owed nothing to feminism, but the only woman ever to become British prime minister unwittingly cleared the way for other women to succeed in the male-dominated world of politics, observers said on Tuesday.
In the impassioned debate sparked by her death on Monday, Thatcher's role as a pioneer for women in politics is among the thorniest subjects.
In a glowing tribute in which he described her as a “true friend” of the United States, President Barack Obama said she was an example to girls that “there is no glass ceiling that can't be shattered.”
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Tuesday that Thatcher “was a woman who changed history for women”. Yet in 11 years in office, Thatcher only appointed one woman to any of her cabinets, elevating Janet Young to leader of parliament's upper House of Lords.
Gisela Stuart, a senior current Labour lawmaker, said whether she recognised it or not, Thatcher “broke that ceiling - she actually said that there is no place where a woman cannot go and succeed.
“While you can accuse her that she didn't bring women in with her, she broke down the doors and it was then up to the next generation of women to walk through those doors,” Stuart told AFP.
There were around 40 women MPs in parliament's lower House of Commons when Thatcher reluctantly left power in 1990. Today 146 of the 650 lawmakers are women. Though Stuart is from the other side of the political divide to Thatcher and the Conservatives, she said it is often overlooked that the former prime minister also took on the macho world of trade unions.
“The left likes to forget that you have to go a long way to find something more chauvinistic than the brotherhood in the trade unions. She broke their power,” she said.
Beatrix Campbell, a feminist writer and author of “The Iron Ladies: Why Do Women Vote Tory?”, said: “The remarkable thing about Margaret Thatcher was the way that she performed power not in a sense to say to women you can be like me but, 'I am the exception'.
“Thatcher hated feminism. It's an egalitarian project, and she was an elitist - never an egalitarian,” Campbell said in a BBC radio debate.
Thatcher never hid her contempt for feminist militants, saying: “I owe nothing to women's lib.”
And she once commented that “I hate those strident tones we hear from some women's libbers.”
At the same time, Thatcher, a married mother of two children, had no qualms about praising a women's supposed advantages over men. “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman,” was one of her best-known quotes.
Margot James, a current Conservative lawmaker and the party's first openly lesbian MP, was in her 20s when Thatcher came to power. She said it was unfair to blame Thatcher for having so few women in her cabinet, because at that time there were not many women MPs to choose from.
“She had limited room for manoeuvre in that respect. What she did was that she showed women that they could reach the very top in any field,” she said in the debate with Campbell.
“She democratised Britain in so many senses. She opened up the economy, and gave opportunities to all, regardless of gender.”
Douglas Hurd, who served as foreign minister under Thatcher, also dismissed suggestions that as a woman herself it was her job to promote women. “That wasn't her job, for heaven's sake,” he said. “She wanted to appoint the best people.”
China lauds Thatcher but Hong Kong activists cry betrayal
BEIJING: Margaret Thatcher was an “outstanding” leader who wisely compromised over Hong Kong's future, China said Tuesday, although democracy activists in the former British colony itself accused her of betrayal.
The news of the ex-prime minister's death at the age of 87 featured on the front pages of most major Chinese newspapers - relegating a deadly outbreak of H7N9 bird flu to the inside pages.
During the Conservative leader's time in power, the overriding issue between London and Beijing was the future of Hong Kong, as the clock ticked down to the expiry of Britain's lease on the New Territories region in 1997.
Thatcher signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 to begin the handover process, giving up on Britain's hopes of retaining Hong Kong in the face of unbending resistance from China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei praised Thatcher as an “outstanding statesman”. “She made important contributions to the development of Chinese-British relations, and in particular to the peaceful solution of the issue of Hong Kong,” he told reporters.
The joint declaration followed a brief but bloody war with Argentina in 1982 in which Thatcher “impressed the world with her hardline stance”, China's state-run Global Times said in an editorial.
“But Thatcher managed to understand that China is not Argentina and Hong Kong is not the Falklands,” it said. “We can say that she made her biggest compromise as prime minister in this issue.”
A decade after the 1997 handover, Thatcher said she regretted her inability to persuade Deng to let Britain extend its control of the prosperous entrepot in southern China, which stretched back to 1842.
Although Britain held Hong Kong Island and part of Kowloon in perpetuity, the future of the territory as a whole was seen as untenable if shorn of its populous hinterland in the New Territories bordering the Chinese mainland.
Xing Hua, a retired academic from the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, said Thatcher arrived for talks in China ahead of the declaration aiming to “maintain the privileges of the British” in the colony.
“But she took a pragmatic approach to the negotiations to obtain the correct results, which should be commended,” he told AFP. In the years leading up to 1997, Britain's last colonial governor Chris Patten promoted limited democratic reforms in Hong Kong - provoking vicious diatribes from Beijing, and criticism from his own bosses in London.
But while the territory enjoys a large measure of autonomy under the Sino-British handover agreement, it still lacks universal suffrage - and pro-democracy campaigners accused Thatcher of abandoning them.
“We were definitely betrayed by the British,” pro-democracy lawmaker Cyd Ho from Hong Kong's Labour Party told AFP, arguing that Thatcher left the territory's people “at the mercy of the authoritarian regime” in Beijing.
Fellow pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said Thatcher fared “miserably” in terms of her legacy for the territory and accused her of “selling out Hong Kong's democracy”.
But others said Thatcher had done the best she could for Hong Kong. Democratic Party founder and veteran activist Martin Lee said Thatcher's options were “heavily limited”.
“I suppose her option would be whether she would start a war with China over Hong Kong, like the war with Argentina over the Falkland islands. But of course nobody would see that it's a possibility starting a war with China.”