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Thousands gather for 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher's funeral

LONDON — With stately solemnity and military honors, Margaret Thatcher's body was borne through the streets of the British capital Wednesday morning to a funeral where hundreds of world leaders, colleagues and friends paid their last respects to the United Kingdom's first and only female prime minister.

Inside imposing St. Paul's Cathedral, more than 2,000 mourners gathered for a simple religious service in memory of the woman whose transformative but controversial premiership from 1979 to 1990 was the longest Britain had seen since the early 19th century. Among those in the church was Queen Elizabeth II, attending a funeral for a prime minister for the first time since Winston Churchill's rites in 1965.

Thatcher's coffin was draped in the Union Jack and graced with a spray of white roses. On it rested a card with the message: "Beloved mother, always in our hearts."

"This is a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling," Richard Chartres, the bishop of London, said in a short homily. "It is also the place for the simple truths which transcend political debate. And above all, it is the place for hope."

Spectators several rows deep crowded the sidewalks of the streets leading from the Houses of Parliament to the cathedral. Some people burst into applause. Others threw flowers. In a rare move, Big Ben was silenced.

The handful of protesters were fewer than had been expected for a leader who polarized opinion as much as the "Iron Lady" did.

Baroness Thatcher, as she was known after her retirement, died April 8 at age 87, after years of failing mental and physical health. Her death renewed the debate over her political legacy, which supporters say restored Britain as an economic and military power, but opponents say exalted greed.

Mourners included Thatcher's four successors as prime minister, members of her Cabinets as well as actor Joan Collins and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney attended, as did three former secretaries of state: Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and James Baker.

Members of the British armed services escort the coffin Wednesday morning before the funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral of Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister and baroness.

Getty Images/Ministry of Defence Crown Copyright

Members of the British armed services escort the coffin Wednesday morning before the funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral of Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister and baroness.

Thousands gather for 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher's funeral 04/17/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 8:50pm]

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