LONDON, Apr 9 – Britain will hold the funeral of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday April 17 with Queen Elizabeth II leading the mourners, officials said, as the country wrestled with deeply divided views of the “Iron Lady.”
As fresh tributes were paid around the world, the British government on Tuesday announced the date of the ceremonial funeral at St Paul’s cathedral in central London, the second highest honour after a state funeral.
But Thatcher remained as polarising in death as in life, with six police officers injured at one of a number of parties across the country celebrating the death of a woman whose critics accuse of destroying British industry.
Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister and an icon internationally for her role in defeating communism and ending the Cold War, died at the Ritz Hotel in London on Monday aged 87 after suffering a stroke.
“It was agreed this morning at the government coordination meeting with the Thatcher family and Buckingham Palace that the funeral service of Lady Thatcher will take place on Wednesday 17 April at St Paul’s Cathedral,” current prime minister David Cameron’s Downing Street office said in a statement.
Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip will attend, in an unusual move, Buckingham Palace said.
The queen does not usually attend funerals or memorial services of non-royals.
Lawmakers have been recalled to parliament this Wednesday to pay tribute to Thatcher, the longest serving prime minister of the 20th century.
A private ambulance accompanied by police motorcycle outriders arrived in the early hours of Tuesday at the luxury Ritz hotel in central London where Thatcher spent the last days of her life, an AFP photographer said.
Undertakers erected a green screen at the back door of the hotel before removing her body at around 12:20 am (2330 GMT Monday).
Thatcher, a Conservative, specifically did not want a full state funeral of the kind given to monarchs and to World War II premier Winston Churchill, thinking it was “not appropriate”, her spokesman Lord Tim Bell said.
Thatcher also requested that she not get a fly-past by military aircraft as it would be a “waste of money”.
His comments came after several Conservative lawmakers called for her to be given a state funeral.
Ceremonial funerals have in the past been given to the Queen Mother – the mother of current monarch Queen Elizabeth II who died in 2002 – and to Princess Diana who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.
Thatcher’s funeral will still be a grand affair. Her coffin will rest in the Palace of Westminster – part of the Houses of Parliament – the night before the funeral and will be taken through the streets on a gun carriage to the cathedral.
In parliament on Wednesday, the government is expected to table a motion paying tribute to Thatcher – who has her own statue outside the House of Commons, or lower house of parliament – which lawmakers will then vote on.
But trouble erupted at several parties to celebrate her death, reminiscent of the sometimes violent protests by miners, trade unions and anti-tax protesters during her time in office in the 1980s.
In Bristol, southwest England, six police officers were injured, one seriously, when they tried to break up a party of around 200 people believed to be celebrating her death late Monday, police told AFP.
Bottles and cans were thrown at officers and fires were started in bins.
In the south London neighbourhood of Brixton, sworn enemies of the “Iron Lady” held a street party to celebrate the news, holding placards saying “Rejoice — Thatcher is dead” and dancing to hip-hop and reggae songs blaring from sound systems.
Police said there was “low level” disorder and the group threw a small number of objects at officers, but there were no arrests and no serious injuries.
A similar party took place in the Scottish city of Glasgow.
Britain’s newspapers were similarly divided even if they were unanimous on the depth of her impact.
Right-wing titles carried effusive praise, with the Daily Telegraph calling her a “champion of freedom for workers, nations and the world.”
But the left-wing Guardian said she promoted a “cult of greed”.
World leaders have heaped praise on her, with Australian prime minister Julia Gillard among the latest to pay tribute by saying Thatcher “changed history for women”.
Pope Francis said he recalled “with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations.”
But in the pope’s homeland Argentina, several veterans of the Falklands War reacted with delight at news of her death.
“God bless the day that that terrible woman has died,” said Domenico Gruscomagno, 71. “She was an odious person. In order to win elections in Great Britain, she waged war.”
Mario Volpe, leader of the Malvinas (Falklands) War Veterans Center, said Thatcher “died without being punished, without having been put on trial.”
Britain and Argentina went to war in 1982 after Argentine forces invaded the disputed but British-held islands. There were 649 Argentine deaths and 255 British fatalities. Tensions continue to this day.