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Supporters, protesters turn out for Thatcher funeral


10:17, April 18, 2013

LONDON, April 17 (Xinhua) -- The funeral of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was held Wednesday in London, with some of the bitter divisions in British society that are a part of her legacy played out as her hearse went past waiting crowds, as well as a respectful and occasionally passionate farewell from many who lined the route of the funeral procession.

The death of Baroness Thatcher, as she became after her 11 years as prime minister, nine days ago has vividly brought to life old grievances and allegiances that many people had left behind after she was unceremoniously kicked out of office by her own party, the Conservatives.

The decision to hold such an elaborate funeral, with the involvement of the armed forces, for a former prime minister is almost without precedent in the past 120 years.

Only Sir Winston Churchill was honored with something similar, with a state funeral in 1965. The last prime minister to die, James Callaghan in 2005, had a quiet funeral.


In his funeral sermon, the Bishop of London, the Right Rev. Richard Chartres said that Baroness Thatcher's life had been lived "in the heat of political controversy."

He added, "The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure - even an 'ism'."

"There is an important place for debating policies and legacy; for assessing the impact of political decisions on the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Parliament held a frank debate last week -- but here and today is neither the time nor the place," said the Bishop.

The ornate beauty of the inside of St Paul's Cathedral, previously host to the wedding of Princess Diana in 1981 and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, hosted more than 2,000 mourners headed by Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip.

They included the current British political leaders, including Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and leader of the Opposition Labor Party Ed Miliband as well as foreign leaders such as Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada.

Outside, the crowds lining the roads in Westminster, the political district of London, to see the hearse carrying Baroness Thatcher's body were thin.

However, the crowds became more dense once the coffin had been transferred to a horse-drawn gun carriage at St Clement Dane's Church in the Strand, for the beginning of the formal funeral procession, a journey of about 1.5 kilometers to Sir Christopher Wren's 17th century baroque masterpiece St Paul's Cathedral.

Here the narrow pavements were full, and where the pavements were wider the crowd was 10-deep.

Xinhua witnessed a moment of drama as the funeral procession drew within sight of the cathedral.

At the foot of Ludgate Hill, a group of Falklands War veterans, mostly former Parachute Regiment soldiers, had gathered with the banner of their ex-servicemen's unit to honor their former leader.

Across the road from them, a crowd of up to 100 protesters had gathered to voice their protests at Baroness Thatcher.

The protesters raised a continued chant of "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Dead, Dead, Dead" and waved a rainbow flag with the word "peace" on it, and placards saying "Respect must be earned in life, not given in death."

Suddenly, two dozen riot policemen rushed from reserve and ran through the funeral procession to prevent demonstrators from moving onto the road.

Opposite them, the former soldiers came to a silent attention, but from the crowd made up of several thousand general public around them came a strong and continuous and loud round of applause -- a very unusual event at British funerals -- which drowned out the protesters chants.

Among the crowd, members of the public muttered "scum" and "shame" at the protesters, but the protesters continued undeterred and turned their backs on the coffin as it rolled past on the gun carriage.


After the funeral procession had passed, Xinhua spoke to some of those who had come to pay their last respects, or disrespects, to Baroness Thatcher.

Erica Phipps from Farnham in Surrey told Xinhua that she and her family, a group of eight in all including a baby in a pushchair, had camped out the night before to secure a good spot.

"It was very cold and we only got two hours sleep. It's been all right, though. Seeing this has been a great experience," she said.

The former Parachute Regiment members who had stood to attention when the funeral procession passed had adjourned to a nearby pub, suitably called The Albion (an ancient name for Britain).

Terry, who is in his fifties, is a Falklands veteran who had served with the 3rd Parachute Regiment. He said, "I was really pleased when the police rushed forward to protect the funeral procession. We are proud of Mrs Thatcher."

Across the road, among the protesters, Ray, in his forties was clutching a large rainbow flag. He asked not to be identified further and said, "She destroyed the miners. In the 80s she took our gay rights away and caused a lot of homophobic abuse within schools."

Baroness Thatcher is credited by supporters with reshaping society by encouraging individuality and effort, and by selling off public services and state-supported industries.

But her critics hold this as her greatest crime; they claim that the sale of public utilities such as gas, water, electricity and communications took from the people to give to private individuals and corporations.

For her critics, Baroness Thatcher is strongly disliked for her role in the death of many former manufacturing communities, which fell apart when their factory, coal mine or shipyard shut down and which have not recovered in the intervening quarter of a century.

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