Britain grapples with Thatcher legacy as clashes erupt

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 6:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 1:31am

Britain wrestled on Tuesday with violent passions ignited by the death of divisive former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, with critics of the “Iron Lady” clashing with police and supporters preparing to pay tribute to her in parliament.

World reaction was also divided with Pope Francis hailing her promotion of freedom but people in the pontiff’s homeland Argentina condemning Thatcher as a warmonger who prolonged the 1982 Falklands war for political ends.

Thatcher’s body was removed early on Tuesday from the Ritz Hotel in London, where the first female leader of a Western democracy died aged 87, ahead of a ceremonial funeral that is expected to take place next week.

But Thatcher remained as polarising in death as she was in life, with six police injured at one of a number of parties that took place across the country to celebrate the death of a woman whose critics accuse of destroying British industry.

Trouble erupted at several parties to celebrate her death, reminiscent in their own small way of the sometimes violent protests by miners, trade unions and anti-tax protesters during the 1980s.

In Bristol, southwest England, six police officers were injured, one seriously, when they tried to break up a party of around 200 people believed to be celebrating her death, police said.

Bottles and cans were thrown at officers and bin fires were started.

In the south London neighbourhood of Brixton, sworn enemies of the Iron Lady held a street party to celebrate the news, holding placards saying “Rejoice – Thatcher is dead” and dancing to hip-hop and reggae songs blaring from sound systems.

Police said there was “low level” disorder and the group threw a small number of objects at officers, but there were no arrests and no serious injuries.

A similar party took place in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Britain’s newspapers were similarly divided even if they were unanimous on the depth of her impact.

Right-wing titles carried effusive praise, with the Daily Telegraph calling her a “champion of freedom for workers, nations and the world”.

But the left-wing Guardian said she promoted a “cult of greed”.

World leaders have heaped praise on her, with Australian prime minister Julia Gillard among the latest to pay tribute by saying Thatcher “changed history for women”.

Pope Francis said he recalled “with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations.”

But in Argentina, several veterans of the Falklands War reacted with delight at news of her death.

“God bless the day that that terrible woman has died,” said Domenico Gruscomagno, 71. “She was an odious person. In order to win elections in Great Britain, she waged war.”

Mario Volpe, leader of the Malvinas (Falklands) War Veterans Centre, said Thatcher “died without being punished, without having been put on trial.”

Britain and Argentina went to war in 1982 after Argentine forces invaded the disputed but British-held islands. There were 649 Argentine deaths and 255 British fatalities. Tensions continue to this day.