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Former British PM Margaret Thatcher in hospital after operation

Suzanne Plunkett / AFP

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on June 8, 2010.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the country's first woman elective leader, is in hospital recovering from surgery to remove a growth on her bladder, a source close to the family said on Friday.

After experiencing pain in her bladder earlier in the week, the 87-year-old went to hospital where she underwent a minimally invasive operation, Tim Bell, a public relations executive who once served as image maker to Thatcher, said.

"The operation was completely satisfactory. She's now recovering in hospital and as soon as she's recovered she'll go home," Bell said.

Known as the "Iron Lady," Thatcher, who stepped down in 1990, embraced free market policies, challenged trade unions and privatized many state-owned companies during her 11 years in power, polarizing British voters.

Britain's only woman prime minister, who led her country in a war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982 and was close to the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, was forced to step down by her own party.

Thatcher suffered a series of mild strokes in late 2001 and 2002, after which she cut back on public appearances and later cancelled her speaking schedule.

She was not well enough to join Britain's queen for a lunch with former and serving prime ministers earlier this year, and two years ago she missed an 85th birthday party thrown for her by Prime Minister David Cameron at his official residence at No. 10 Downing Street. But in October she was well enough to mark her birthday with a lunch out in London with her son Mark and his wife.

Thatcher's declining health was a focus of Oscar-winning biopic "The Iron Lady," which premiered last year.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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