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Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dies, aged 87

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died after suffering a stroke. She was 87. The Conservative leader, known as the "Iron Lady," served as British head of government from 1979 to 1990.

Margaret Thatcher passed away on Monday following a stroke, according to her spokesman Lord Tim Bell.

"It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning," Lord Tim Bell said. She had suffered from ill health for a number of years.

Elected in 1979, Thatcher remains the only female prime minister to govern in Britain. Despite radically dividing public opinion, she went on to lead the Conservatives to two further election wins, remaining at the helm for the longest continuous period in British politics since the early 19th century.

Margaret Thatcher's legacy

In a statement Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron heralded the former premier as a "great leader."

"Her legacy will be the fact that she served her country so well, and she saved our country and she showed immense courage in doing so, and people will be learning about what she did and her achievements in decades, probably centuries to come," he said.

He has cut short his visit to Europe to return to England.

Queen Elizabeth II also expressed her condolences to Thatcher's family. A statement issued by Buckingham Palace said the Queen was greatly saddened by the news.

World leaders pay tribute

In a written statement US President Barack Obama said with the death of Thatcher, America had lost a "true friend."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also paid tribute to the former premier, describing her as "one of the most outstanding world leaders of her time."

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso expressed his "deepest regrets" to the UK government. He praised Thatcher's "contributions" to the growth of the EU, although acknowledged that she was famously unconvinced by its merits.

She was a "circumspect yet engaged player in the European Union," who "will be remembered for both her contributions to and her reserves about our common project," Barroso said.

The head of the European Parliament, German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, also praised "a figure of historic significance," while referencing "clear political differences."

Thatcher was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire in 1925. Soon after completing a degree in chemistry at Somerville College in Oxford in 1947, she began a political career in the Conservative Party, where she eventually became known for shifting Britain's economic and foreign policy to the right.

The former prime minister is to receive a "ceremonial funeral" with military honors, according to Downing Street.

ccp/rg (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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