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UK bids farewell to 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher

Security is on high alert in London as the public funeral of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher is held just days after the bombings in Boston. The funeral, at St. Paul's Cathedral, is attended by dignitaries from around the world. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.

LONDON -- Some had slept in the streets to guarantee a good spot to watch her body pass by on a gun carriage, but others said they were glad she was gone: Margaret Thatcher’s funeral proved as divisive as the 11 years she spent as Britain's prime minister.

To her supporters, the “Iron Lady” was the greatest British premier of modern times -- rivaled only by World War II icon Winston Churchill. For them, Thatcher was a leader who transformed the country’s ailing economy, won a war against Argentina over the Falkland Islands and blazed a trail for women as the first female prime minister.

To her detractors, she was responsible for mass unemployment, the decimation of traditional industries like steel refining and coal mining and a culture that celebrated greed.

Glyn Kirk / AFP - Getty Images

Supporters and opponents line the streets as the funeral of the U.K.'s former prime minister, "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, takes place at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

A funeral procession to London's St. Paul's Cathedral was marked by cheering but also some booing from crowds of people lining the route. At one point, supporters and opponents almost came to blows with insults and threats exchanged, ITV News reported.

Right-leaning journalist Melanie Phillips said in a tweet, "Watching the funeral, finding it hard not to feel we are today somehow burying England."

About 2,300 guests attended the 11 a.m. (6 a.m. ET) funeral service, including Queen Elizabeth and other members of the U.K. royal family.


There were also representatives from 170 countries -- such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and current leaders from more than a dozen states.

Many British politicians, including past premiers Tony Blair and John Major, and more than 50 guests associated with the Falklands, including veterans of the conflict, also attended.

In his address, the Bishop of London Richard Chartres spoke of Thatcher’s “formidable energy and passion” and “a life lived in the heat of political controversy.”

Chartres said there was a place for debate about legacies and the impact of political decisions, but it was not at her funeral.

Margaret Thatcher, the longest-serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of the 20th century and the only woman ever to have held the post, passed away after suffering a stroke. She was 87. NBC's Martin Fletcher looks back at the life and times of the "Iron Lady."

“This is a place for ordinary human compassion of a kind that is reconciling,” he said. “It’s also the place for the simple truths that transcend political debate.”

He said Thatcher, who died on April 8, had become a “symbolic” and even a “mythological” figure to some.

But he noted her “personal kindness” and her “capacity to reach out to the young” and those who were not considered by some to be important.

Chartres also spoke of her struggles to become one of the few female members of the U.K.’s parliament despite prejudice against women and how she suffered “many rebuffs on the way.”

Amanda Thatcher, Margaret’s granddaughter, read a passage from Ephesians that recalled the late prime minister’s fighting spirit. “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil," she read.

David Cameron, Britain's current prime minister and a Conservative like Thatcher, then read a passage from the Book of John. 

Before the service, Cameron told BBC Radio that the ceremony was "a fitting tribute to a great prime minister, respected around the world."

He added that he hoped opponents of Thatcher would show “respect” even if they disagreed with her. More than 4,000 police were deployed on the streets of the U.K. capital, officials said.

Residents in the Falkland Islands remember Margaret Thatcher and prepare to honor her with their own memorial service. ITN's Martin Geissler reports.

After the service, the coffin was taken in a hearse to The Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Thatcher's remains were cremated later in the day at Mortlake Crematorium in South-West London. Her ashes will be buried next to those of her husband Denis, who died in 2003.

Earlier on Thursday, her British flag-draped coffin had been loaded into a hearse at the Palace of Westminster, home of the U.K. parliament and made its way to the Church of St. Clement Danes.

A card with flowers on coffin read "Beloved Mother -- Always in our hearts."

Her coffin was then transferred to a gun carriage and accompanied by members of the armed forces on the way to St. Paul's.

"You gave millions of us hope, freedom, ambition," read a placard held up by one man on the route.

A hardcore of supporters had slept on the streets overnight to ensure they had a good spot, ITV News reported.

Margaret Kittle, 79, told ITV News that she had traveled from Canada for the funeral and waited outside St. Paul's since 8 a.m. local time Tuesday.

“It was a cold night, the damp goes through you but I always said I would come to the U.K. for Margaret Thatcher's funeral because I respect her,” she added. “I think she did a lot for the world. We will never see the likes of Mrs. Thatcher again.”

Watch the 'Iron Lady' deliver some of her most memorable quotes, as the world remembers former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

However in Easington, County Durham, northern England, miners were remembering the 20th anniversary of the closure of the local pit.

“It's the end of an era for the person who destroyed our coal mines,” Durham Miners Association general secretary David Hopper told ITV News. "We are recognizing that the perpetrator of all this evil has gone and thankfully she will not be coming back."

Reuters contributed to this report. ITV News is NBC News' U.K. partner.

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