Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara joined a host of
British and international dignitaries in London on Wednesday, as the
British capital stages its biggest political funeral in almost half a
century for former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
In an event
comparable to that of Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965, and which has
sparked ire in many Brits, Thatcher's coffin will be carried atop a
horse-drawn gun carriage through streets lined with admirers, and some
detractors, from parliament to the city's most famous cathedral.
was the first woman prime minister, she served for longer in the job
than anyone for 150 years, she achieved some extraordinary things in her
life," British Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of Thatcher's
Conservative Party, told BBC radio.
"I think what is happening
today is absolutely fitting and right," he said, dismissing concerns
about the cost and pomp of the event.
The bells of London's
iconic Big Ben clock tower will fall silent in tribute for the first
time since Churchill's funeral and more than 700 armed forces personnel
will honor a woman who led them to victory in the 1982 Falklands War.
Guns will fire from the Tower of London every minute while the procession is under way.
Thatcher, who governed Britain from 1979 to 1990, died on April 8 after suffering a stroke.
life, the woman the Soviets christened the "Iron Lady" divided the
British public with her free-market policies which sometimes wrought
wrenching change on communities. In death it is no different.
People gathered along the funeral procession route early in the morning with placards that reflected a range of views.
gave millions of us hope, freedom, ambition," read a placard held up by
one man, while a short distance away another man held one that read:
"Over 10 million pounds of our money for a Tory funeral".
have shown that many are unhappy that the estimated 10-million ($15
million) pound bill for the funeral is being picked up by the taxpayer,
while some left-wing lawmakers say the pomp-filled funeral is excessive.
But her admirers, of which there are many in her party and in southern England, argue that she merits such a funeral.
people say she divided the country: but if she was so divisive, how did
she win three elections?" said Joseph Afrane, 49, a security officer
from south London, who wore a cowboy hat, jacket, shoes and even watch
emblazoned with the British flag.
More than 2,300 mourners will
attend including 11 serving prime ministers from around the world, the
British government's entire cabinet, two heads of state and 17 foreign
But there will be notable absences. Former Soviet
leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Nancy Reagan, the widow of Thatcher's great
U.S. ally Ronald Reagan, are too frail to attend.
struck up a close relationship with Reagan during the Cold War and was
among the first to decide that Gorbachev was a man she could "do
The guest list for her funeral has prompted talk
of diplomatic snubs. A spokesman for Cameron denied the United States
had snubbed Britain by not sending anyone senior from the administration
of President Barack Obama.
The Argentine ambassador refused to
attend after Britain said it wouldn't be inviting Argentine President
Cristina Fernandez, following a request from the Thatcher family, amid
increased tensions over the contested Falkland Islands.
between the two countries remain strained after a 1982 war over the
South Atlantic islands which Thatcher ordered a task force to retake
after Argentine troops seized it.
Mourners at the funeral will
hear her favorite hymns including the well-known early 20th century
celebration of British patriotism "I vow to thee my country".
Paul's, the 300-year-old cathedral where her funeral will take place,
played host to the funerals of Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and
Churchill as well as to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana
The abiding domestic images of her premiership will
remain those of conflict: huge police confrontations with mass ranks of
coalminers whose year-long strike failed to save their pits and
communities; Thatcher riding a tank in a white headscarf; and flames
rising above Trafalgar Square in the riots over the deeply unpopular
"poll tax" which contributed to her downfall.
But Cameron said
that Thatcher's battles, particularly her crushing of trade unions that
dramatically reduced the number of days lost to strikes, had in fact
"She was a bold politician who recognized the
consensus was failing ... She took tough and necessary decisions and in
many ways created a new consensus ... So in the end the breaking of the mold ... led to less division, less strife," he said.
Meanwhile, about two dozen opponents of former British Prime Minister Thatcher turned their backs on her funeral procession and some others booed as her coffin passed through central London on a gun carriage on Wednesday.
One man held up a placard "Boo!" and some shouted "scum" while others clapped, threw flowers along the route and cheered for Britain's longest serving prime minister of the 20th Century, Reuters reporters said.
Thousands of supporters lined the route from Westminster to St Paul's Cathedral.
Polls have shown that many are unhappy that the estimated 10-million ($15 million) pound bill for the funeral is being picked up by the taxpayer, while some left-wing lawmakers say the pomp-filled funeral is excessive.
Even Thatcher's critics concede that - for better or for ill - she transformed the face of Britain.
1979, when she came to power, Britain was in the grip of a long
post-war decline with notoriously troubled labor relations, low
productivity and was being outperformed by continental rivals France and
Data show she turned that around by boosting home
ownership and the service industry, breaking the power of the unions,
and deregulating financial services.
But the price - growing
inequality and the closure of large swathes of the country's industrial
base - left parts of the country struggling to create new jobs and
rebuild decimated communities, leaving a bitter taste which endures.