Mourners gather for Margaret Thatcher′s funeral | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 17.04.2013
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Mourners gather for Margaret Thatcher's funeral

The funeral for the late PM Margaret Thatcher has begun. Mourners and protesters have lined downtown London to bid a final farewell to the polarizing leader.

The funeral for Margaret Thatcher began before midday on Wednesday in St. Paul's Cathedral. Dignitaries from around the globe were in attendance to commemorate the late prime minister. The Bishop of London Richard Chartres led the service.

Thatcher's coffin travelled along the processional route upon a horse-drawn gun carriage, draped in a Union Flag and bearing the note from her children Mark and Carol: "Beloved mother, always in our hearts."

Some 700 military personnel in full ceremonial uniform lined the way, which began at St. Clemens Dane Church.

Crowds of silent mourners stood along the barricades to catch a final glimpse of the procession, some throwing flowers as her Union Flag-draped coffin passed.

The bells of Big Ben have been silenced for the procession and the funeral.

Tight security for procession

Although some protesters were in the crowds on Wednesday, there appeared to be no clashes with the authorities.

Over 4,000 police officers were on duty in London on Wednesday in anticipation of a potentially volatile reaction to the late former prime minister's funeral cortege, which will travel from Westminster to St. Paul's Cathedral accompanied with full military honors.

London authorities have stepped up security for the funeral after widespread protests across Great Britain following her death, as well as a deadly terror attack at the Boston Marathon earlier this week which left three dead and more than a hundred seriously injured.

While Margaret Thatcher's death has drawn an outpouring of condolences from politicians around the globe over the past week and a half, many in Britain have celebrated her passing with glee, remembering her economic legacy as one that sped up the decline of the coalmining industry and hurt unions. Numerous celebrations have led to clashes with authorities.

"The right to conduct peaceful protest is a tenant of our democracy," said Christine Jones of the Metropolitan police. "However that right is qualified in that protest does not stray into acts of crime or violence or the instigation of crime or violence."

Some protesters have said they will turn their backs to Thatcher's coffin as it passes by on Wednesday.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away on April 8 at the age of 87, following a stroke. She led the British government from 1979 to 1990 as the country's first female prime minister, winning three consecutive elections. Economic policies that favored free market capitalism, as well as her role in bringing the Cold War to an end shaped her legacy as a strong-willed leader, revered by some, hated by many.

World leaders to attend funeral of 'Iron Lady'

Some 2,300 international leaders and dignitaries received invitations to the highly-anticipated service in London.

Guests include Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip. The current Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet are scheduled to attend, as well as all surviving British prime ministers and members of Thatcher's cabinet.

Eleven prime ministers will also be in attendance, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle will represent the German government at the funeral.

Although all surviving US presidents were invited, none are to attend on Wednesday.

Both former First Lady Nancy Reagan, the wife of the late US President Ronald Reagan, and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declined invitations, citing ill health.

Argentina's former ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alicia Castro, also declined the invitation, in a snub believed to relate back to the two countries' 1982 armed conflict over the Falkland Islands.

According to the wishes of the late prime minister, the service is to be simple, in stark contrast to the pomp and circumstance which will accompany her procession through the streets of London. Her remains are to be cremated following the service.

kms/jr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)