American ex-presidents invited to Thatcher’s funeral
Britain has invited all the surviving former US presidents to the funeral of Margaret Thatcher next week in a final testament to the Iron Lady’s special relationship with America, the government said Thursday as it unveiled a 2,000-strong guest list.
But great figures from Thatcher’s Cold War era, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-German chancellor Helmut Kohl and former US president Ronald Reagan’s widow Nancy, will all be absent due to ill health.
Police said meanwhile they wanted to make contact with protesters planning demonstrations at the ceremonial funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on Wednesday, a sign of Thatcher’s divisive legacy in a country where many loathed her free-market economic policies.
Thatcher died in London’s Ritz Hotel on Monday at the age of 87, after suffering a stroke. She was Britain’s first female prime minister and held power from 1979 to 1990.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s Downing Street office said invitations to the funeral would be printed Thursday and would start being dispatched on Friday, and released an initial list of invitees and those who have accepted.
Former South African president FW De Klerk, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso and ex-Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad have also been invited.
“The guest list has been drawn up by Lady Thatcher’s family and representatives with the assistance of the government and the Conservative party. It is expected that over 2,000 invitations will be sent out,” it said.
“There are invitations being made in a personal capacity to some current and former world leaders as well as others from overseas who had a close connection to Baroness Thatcher.”
Celebrities including singing diva Shirley Bassey and Jeremy Clarkson, presenter of the BBC television motoring programme “Top Gear”, are among those who have already accepted invitations, it added.
A representative of the family of Nelson Mandela has also been invited, it said, although the 94-year-old former South African president himself is likely to be too frail to attend.
There was no immediate word on whether US presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush would attend. Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has also been invited.
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has not been invited, Downing Street confirmed to AFP, showing the continuing tensions over the Falkland Islands. Thatcher sent troops to retake the islands from invading Argentina troops in 1982.
“We have invited those countries and institutions with whom we have normal diplomatic relations,” Downing Street said.
Diplomatic relations between Britain and Argentina were restored in 1990.
Gorbachev had told the government he was unable to attend due to health reasons, a Downing Street spokesman told AFP, a day after Gorbachev’s spokesman made a similar statement.
Despite her opposition to communism, Conservative Thatcher formed a warm relationship with Gorbachev after recognising him as a reformer, and her championing of him to Reagan is widely viewed as contributing to the end of the Cold War.
Nancy Reagan was also too frail to attend, a spokeswoman said.
Kohl, 83, the former German chancellor, meanwhile told the Times newspaper that ill health would prevent him from coming.
But in a parting shot he said that Thatcher’s hostility towards a closer Europe is the root cause of ongoing tensions between Britain and the EU.
“[She] wanted Europe, but a different Europe from that wanted by most of her European colleagues and me. From our point of view, this antagonism characterises British policy on Europe to this day,” he added.
Thatcher strongly opposed German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Thatcher’s legacy at home also remains divisive, with many lawmakers from the opposition Labour party shunning a special session of parliament on Wednesday in her honour.
Her supporters are championing for some sort of public memorial while London Mayor Boris Johnson said any new airport built for the capital should be named after her.
But Cameron cooled speculation on what form any tribute would take.
“I think we should take some time and think about this,” he said.
London’s Metropolitan Police meanwhile said it would put a major security operation into place for the funeral with officers in place along the route and special mobile police teams on hand to cope with any emergency.
Commander Christine Jones, the officer in charge of the operation, urged people planning protests to contact police first.
“I would ask anyone who wishes to demonstrate then, or in the coming days, to come and talk to us. The right to protest is one that must be upheld, however, we will work to do that whilst balancing the rights of those who wish to pay their respects,” she said.
Several “Thatcher death parties” around Britain on Monday descended into violence with six police officers suffering injuries.