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Pomp, ceremony and protests at Thatcher funeral

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was today granted the honour of a ceremonial funeral at St Paul's Cathedral in the presence of the Queen, dignitaries from around the world and all of her successors as prime minister.

The United Kingdom's first female prime minister was given full military honours as the coffin bearing her body was taken to the cathedral in procession, through streets lined with mourners, on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses.

At St Paul's, a congregation of more than 2,300 guests heard the Bishop of London Richard Chartres pay tribute to Lady Thatcher's "perseverance in struggle and courage".

Among those present were more than 30 members of the Iron Lady's cabinets from 1979-90, including Lord Heseltine and Lord Howe, whose challenges to her leadership triggered her removal from power.

Every member of the current Cabinet attended, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, who gave a reading from the Gospel of St John. A clearly moved Chancellor George Osborne appeared to wipe tears from his eyes during the ceremony.

Lady Thatcher's coffin, placed beneath the dome of St Paul's, was draped in a Union flag and topped by a floral tribute of white roses bearing the handwritten note "Beloved Mother - Always in our Hearts" from her children Sir Mark and Carol Thatcher.

Walking ahead of the coffin as it entered the cathedral were Lady Thatcher's grandchildren Michael and Amanda, carrying cushions bearing her insignia of the Order of the Garter and Order of Merit. Amanda also gave a reading from the King James Bible.

The bishop deliberately steered clear of discussing the former Conservative leader's political legacy in his address, insisting that the funeral was "a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling... for the simple truths which transcend political debate".

But outside the cathedral, there were reminders of the bitter divisions of the Thatcher years as protesters joined mourners along the route.

Some voiced anger at the reported £10 million cost of the ceremonial funeral - though Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude insisted today that the final bill would be "much, much less" than this figure.

Although the event was not the state funeral received by Sir Winston Churchill, it was conducted with more pomp and ceremony than any seen in London since the death of the Queen Mother in 2002.

Mr Cameron insisted the funeral was a "fitting tribute" to a major national figure who was the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century.

The Prime Minister accepted that opinions remain divided over the legacy of Lady Thatcher, who died last week aged 87.

But he said that she had created a new consensus during her time in power, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In a way, we are all Thatcherites now.

"She was the first woman prime minister, she served for longer in the job that anyone for 150 years, she achieved some extraordinary things in her life. I think what is happening today is absolutely fitting and right."

 

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