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Politics

World leaders join Britain in bidding Margaret Thatcher farewell

The world has bid its final farewell to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her funeral drew thousands to the streets of London as well as international figures from around the globe.

The coffin of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is carried as it arrives for her funeral service at St Paul's Cathedral, in London April 17, 2013 Thatcher, who was Conservative prime minister between 1979 and 1990, died on April 8 at the age of 87. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION OBITUARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Beisetzung Margaret Thatcher 17.04.13

The late head of government was given a procession with full military honors and a ceremonial funeral, a distinction previously afforded to Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 and the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2002. Some 2,300 world dignitaries attended the service at St. Paul's Cathedral on Wednesday.

Margaret Thatcher's death over a week ago had drawn emotional reactions to her legacy as a polarizing political figure. Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who presided over the service, called on mourners to remember Thatcher as a person.

A final farewell to the 'Iron Lady'

"There is an important place for debating policies and legacy ...but here and today is neither the time nor the place," the Bishop of London Richard Chartres, said.

"Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings," he added.

The funeral service was simple. The bishop of London led the congregation in hymns and prayers, while Thatcher's American granddaughter Amanda and the Prime Minister David Cameron each read two readings from the Bible. Leaders of Great Britain's Christian denominations then each gave a blessing.

Following the funeral, Margaret Thatcher's remains were to be cremated and then laid next to those of her husband, Denis Thatcher, who died in 2003.

World leaders pay their respects

The guest list reflected the importance of Margaret Thatcher in both domestic and world politics. Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip attended the service, marking the first time for the queen to attend the funeral of a prime minister since Winston Churchill's death in 1965.

Members of both Cameron's and Thatcher's cabinet were also at St. Paul's on Wednesday.

Eleven prime ministers, including Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Canadian Premier Stephen Harper, traveled to London to pay their respects, alongside government representatives, such as Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle.

Although all surviving US presidents were invited, none attended on Wednesday.

Both former First Lady Nancy Reagan, the wife of the late US President Ronald Reagan, and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declined invitations, citing ill health.

In a snub believed to stem from the 1982 Argentine-British armed conflict over the Falkland Islands, Argentina's former ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alicia Castro, also declined an invitation.

Crowds remain calm during procession

Much of the crowd remained silent during the procession on Wednesday, some even throwing flowers as Thatcher's coffin passed. Prior to the event, London had deployed over 4,000 police officers in anticipation of volatile protesters. However, there appeared to be no clashes with the authorities.

The procession began with the removal of Thatcher's coffin from Westminster, where it lay overnight. A hearse then transported it to St. Clement Danes church in downtown London.

Pallbearers from the military placed the coffin on a horse-drawn gun carriage, which then traveled along a ceremonial route to St. Paul's Cathedral behind a military marching band. Some 700 military personnel in full ceremonial uniform lined the way.

The Union Jack-draped coffin bore flowers and a card from her children Mark and Carol: "Beloved mother, always in our hearts."

For the duration of the procession and funeral, the bells of Big Ben were silenced.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away on April 8 at the age of 87, following a stroke. She led the British government from 1979 to 1990 as the country's first female prime minister, winning three consecutive elections. Economic policies that favored free market capitalism, as well as her role in bringing the Cold War to an end shaped her legacy as a strong-willed leader, revered and hated across Britain.

kms/jr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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