Clashes erupt as Britain grapples with Thatcher’s legacy
Britain wrestled Tuesday with violent passions ignited by the death of divisive former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, with critics of the “Iron Lady” clashing with police and supporters preparing to pay tribute to her in parliament.
World reaction was also divided with Pope Francis hailing her promotion of freedom but people in the pontiff’s homeland Argentina condemning Thatcher as a warmonger who prolonged the 1982 Falklands War for political ends.
Thatcher’s body was removed early Tuesday from the Ritz Hotel in London, where the first female leader of a Western democracy died aged 87, ahead of a ceremonial funeral that is expected to take place next week.
But Thatcher remained as polarising in death as she was in life, with six police injured at one of a number of parties that took place across the country to celebrate the death of a woman whose critics accuse of destroying British industry.
A private ambulance accompanied by police motorcycle outriders arrived in the early hours of Tuesday at the luxury Ritz hotel in central London where Thatcher spent the last days of her long life, an AFP photographer said.
Undertakers erected a green screen at the back door of the hotel before removing her body at around 12:20 am (2330 GMT Monday).
Baroness Thatcher, her official title, will receive a funeral with military honours which is expected to take place next week at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, after which she will be cremated, officials have said.
The government has yet to confirm a date.
Thatcher, a Conservative, specifically did not want a full state funeral of the kind given to monarchs and to World War II premier Winston Churchill, thinking it was “not appropriate”, her spokesman Lord Tim Bell said.
Thatcher also requested that she did not get a fly past by military aircraft as it would be a “waste of money”.
His comments came after several Conservative lawmakers called for her to be given a state funeral.
Ceremonial funerals have in the past been given to the Queen Mother — the mother of current monarch Queen Elizabeth II who died in 2002 — and to Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.
But Thatcher’s funeral will still be a grand affair. Her coffin will rest in the Palace of Westminster — part of the Houses of Parliament — the night before the funeral and will be taken through the streets on a gun carriage to the cathedral.
Prime Minister David Cameron called her the “patriot prime minister”. Thatcher, the former Conservative Party leader, was the 20th century’s longest continuous occupant of Downing Street from 1979 to 1990.
Both houses of Britain’s parliament have also been recalled on Wednesday for a debate on her legacy.
The government is expected to table a motion paying tribute to Thatcher — who has her own statue outside the House of Commons, or lower house of parliament — which lawmakers will then vote on.
But trouble erupted at several parties to celebrate her death, reminiscent in their own small way of the sometimes violent protests by miners, trade unions and anti-tax protesters during the 1980s.
In Bristol, southwest England, six police officers were injured, one seriously, when they tried to break up a party of around 200 people believed to be celebrating her death, police told AFP.
Bottles and cans were thrown at officers and bin fires were started.
In the south London neighbourhood of Brixton, sworn enemies of the Iron Lady held a street party to celebrate the news, holding placards saying “Rejoice — Thatcher is dead” and dancing to hip-hop and reggae songs blaring from sound systems.
Police said there was “low level” disorder and the group threw a small number of objects at officers, but there were no arrests and no serious injuries.
A similar party took place in the Scottish city of Glasgow.
Britain’s newspapers were similarly divided even if they were unanimous on the depth of her 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”.
World leaders have heaped praise on her, with Australian prime minister Julia Gillard among the latest to pay tribute by saying Thatcher “changed history for women”.
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.”
But in Argentina, several veterans of the Falklands War reacted with delight at news of her death.
“God bless the day that that terrible woman has died,” said Domenico Gruscomagno, 71. “She was an odious person. In order to win elections in Great Britain, she waged war.”
Mario Volpe, leader of the Malvinas (Falklands) War Veterans Center, said Thatcher “died without being punished, without having been put on trial.”
Britain and Argentina went to war in 1982 after Argentine forces invaded the disputed but British-held islands. There were 649 Argentine deaths and 255 British fatalities. Tensions continue to this day.