British Parl gather to honour Margaret Thatcher

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 22:29

London: British lawmakers interrupted their holidays for a special session of Parliament on Wednesday to pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher, although many of the former premier`s harshest critics said they would stay away in a sign of her bitterly divisive legacy.

The government also announced that British armed forces personnel from units associated with the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina will carry the Iron Lady`s coffin at her ceremonial funeral in St Paul`s Cathedral in London next Wednesday.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron will lead the Parliamentary tributes to Thatcher, who died on Monday aged 87 after suffering a stroke, followed by the leaders of his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the opposition Labour party.

International praise has flooded in for Thatcher, who with late US president Ronald Reagan helped bring down communism, and a new poll found she eclipsed wartime leader Winston Churchill as Britain`s most popular prime minister since 1945.

British lawmakers called back early from their Easter break will formally debate a motion considering "the matter of tributes" to Thatcher, starting at 1330 GMT and lasting up to seven and a half hours.

But in a sign of the bitterness that remains at home over her 11 years in power, several lawmakers said they would boycott the special sessions in the ornate setting of the House of Commons and House of Lords.

"Her impact and influence is indisputable, but her legacy is too bitter to warrant this claim to national mourning," said one Labour lawmaker, John Healey.

Supporters say Thatcher`s free-market reforms made Britain stronger -- Cameron said she "saved our country" -- but critics complain her economic policies and battles with the trade unions destroyed millions of lives.

A Labour party spokesman told AFP he expected "a large number of Labour MPs" to attend the debate, for which all lawmakers will be able to claim £3,750 ($5,750, 4,400 euros) in travel expenses.

Firebrand left-wing lawmaker George Galloway also said he would stay away from what he derided as a "state-organised eulogy".

Police prepare for high-security funeral

Thatcher`s funeral on April 17 will in a rare move be attended by Queen Elizabeth II -- the first time the monarch has attended such a ceremony for a former prime minister since Churchill died in 1965.

Downing Street said 700 armed forces from the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force and Royal Marines would take part.

Security is likely to be extremely tight with fears of disruption by Irish republican dissidents and far-left groups. Police are also reportedly bracing for a possible "lone wolf" attack.

Concerns about potential violence rose after trouble erupted at several street parties celebrating her death on Monday night in London, Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow.

Many world figures are expected to attend Thatcher`s funeral, although a spokesman for former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he would not be among them because his health was too frail.

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair and his wife were among the first confirmed guests to the ceremony, which will take place with full military honours and be followed by a private cremation. Thatcher`s ashes will be laid next to those of her husband Denis, who died in 2003, at the Royal Chelsea Hospital.

Thatcher`s son Mark returned to Britain overnight. He and his twin sister Carol, who was also out of the country when their mother died, are expected to attend the funeral.

Outside Thatcher`s plush central London townhouse on Wednesday, a slow but steady stream of mourners laid flowers in tribute, although they were taken inside at regular intervals to stop them piling up.

Several Conservative lawmakers have called for her to receive a full state funeral but her spokesman Lord Tim Bell said Thatcher had specifically asked not to have one.

The government dismissed criticism over the cost of the ceremony, which is one step down from the state funeral given to Churchill but the same honour afforded to the Queen Mother and Princess Diana.

"I think we can afford to contribute to a funeral," Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC.

Still popular, still divisive

Thatcher and her policies, dubbed "Thatcherism", remain as divisive now as they were during her premiership from 1979 to 1990.

A YouGov poll of almost 2,000 people published on Wednesday found that 28 percent of people regarded her as Britain`s greatest prime minister -- even more than Churchill.

Overall, 52 percent thought she was a good or great premier while 30 percent thought she was poor or terrible.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr meanwhile said Thatcher made "unabashedly racist" comments to him about Asian immigration after she left office.

Carr said Thatcher had told him Australia could end up like Fiji "where the Indian migrants have taken over".

AFP




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