April 8, 2013

Thatcher, even in death, divides world opinion

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In a Feb. 20, 1985 file photo, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is applauded by Vice President George Bush, left, as House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. looks on just before she addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, in Washington. Thatchers former spokesman, Tim Bell, said that the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had died Monday morning, April 8, 2013, of a stroke. She was 87. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File)

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Floral tributes and memorabilia are seen outside the house of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who died from a stroke at the age of 87, London, Monday, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

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European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal called Thatcher "a circumspect yet engaged player in the European Union."

Former French President Valerie Giscard d'Estaing called her "a woman unique in history" with "an unwavering strength."

D'Estaing recalled her impressive entrance to one meeting of EU premiers in France, where all the men were in black tie. "She went out of her car and she wore a long dress, a gown for a sort of ball, and everybody was sort of surprised and impressed. All the other members were flattered to speak with her," he recalled.

Harsh criticism came from Northern Ireland and Argentina, where Thatcher's reputation for unbending determination received early tests — when breaking an Irish Republican Army prison hunger strike in 1981 that left 10 inmates dead, then leading Britain into a 1982 war to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.

Gerry Adams, leader of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party that gained strength from Thatcher's confrontation with IRA prison demands, denounced her as a hypocrite who sanctioned secret talks with senior IRA figures yet refused any concessions in public.

"Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian, militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering. She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations," said Adams, whose party ultimately gained a share of power in Northern Ireland after the IRA ceased fire and Blair invited Sinn Fein to the negotiating table.

Many other Irish politicians countered that Thatcher talked tough, but was more pragmatic in private — and dramatically demonstrated this by signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 giving the Republic of Ireland a role in Northern Ireland for the first time. She struck the deal, infuriating the north's Protestant majority, barely a year after the IRA tried to assassinate her in a hotel bombing.

"She was presented as the Iron Lady, but she was open to change and she did change," said Noel Dorr, one of Ireland's senior diplomats in the 1980s who had close personal dealings with Thatcher.

Argentina's government offered no official reaction, but many Argentines blamed Thatcher for the deaths of 649 Argentine troops during the South Atlantic conflict. Some 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders also died.

"Thatcher — it's more or less a bad word here in Argentina," said Buenos Aires resident Ruben Chaves. "Nobody here has good feelings towards that name."

Falklands lawmaker Mike Summers said Thatcher was "one of very few political leaders who could have mounted the expedition she mounted in 1982 to restore our freedom, and from a Falkland Islands perspective she will be forever remembered for that."

Pop culture figures past and present sounded off, too.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor and former Republican governor of California, offered a Twitter tribute to Thatcher as "a visionary, a warrior and a once-in-a-lifetime leader who left the world better than she found it."

Others noted her inspirational role to women, even though Thatcher famously eschewed feminism and rarely promoted women herself.

"Thinking of our 1st Lady of girl power, Margaret Thatcher, a green grocer's daughter who taught me anything is possible," tweeted a former member of the Spice Girls band, Geri Halliwell.


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