Invitations sent out for Thatcher's funeral

By Agence France-Presse in London ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-04-13 07:53:06

 Invitations sent out for Thatcher's funeral

Visitors sign a book of condolence for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in Grantham, England. Thatcher's funeral is scheduled to be held on Wednesday at St Paul's Cathedral in London. Darren Staples / Reuters

Invitations sent out for Thatcher's funeral

The United Kingdom on Friday began sending out 2,000 invitations for the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, with recipients ranging from all of the surviving US presidents and British prime ministers to celebrities including Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson.

But major figures from Thatcher's Cold War era, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-German chancellor Helmut Kohl and former US president Ronald Reagan's widow Nancy, will all be absent due to ill health.

Argentina downplayed the UK's decision not to invite President Cristina Kirchner in a sign of the tensions that still exist between the two countries following the 1982 conflict over the Malvinas Islands, also known as the Falkland Islands, which was regarded by the Iron Lady herself as her finest hour.

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip have already confirmed they will attend next Wednesday's ceremonial funeral at St Paul's Cathedral - the first time the monarch has attended the funeral of one of her prime ministers since Winston Churchill in 1965.

Thatcher died in London's Ritz Hotel on Monday at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke. She was the UK's first female prime minister and was in office from 1979 to 1990.

Guest list

"The guest list has been drawn up by Lady Thatcher's family and representatives with the assistance of the government and the Conservative party," Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office said.

"There are invitations being made in a personal capacity to some current and former world leaders as well as others from overseas who had a close connection to Baroness Thatcher."

A representative of Nelson Mandela's family is among those invited, it said, although the 94-year-old former South African president, whose African National Congress Thatcher once called a "terrorist" group, is likely to be too frail to attend.

Former South African president F.W. De Klerk, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ex-Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and former Australian premier John Howard will also get invites.

Celebrities, including singer Shirley Bassey, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and Clarkson, presenter of the BBC television motoring program Top Gear, have already accepted invitations, Downing Street added.

Broadcaster David Frost and lyricist Tim Rice are also expected to attend.

A representative of the Reagan family had been invited, the statement said, but there was no immediate word on whether former US presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush would attend. Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has also been invited.

Jimmy Carter, who was president when Thatcher came to power in 1979, will also receive an invite.

The dress code for the funeral on Wednesday is described as "full day ceremonial without swords", morning dress or a dark suit for men or a day dress with hat, while "medals and decorations may be worn".

Thatcher's coffin will be borne by military personnel from units associated with the 1982 Malvinas conflict.

Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader with whom Thatcher had warm relations, said he will be unable to attend due to health reasons, a Downing Street spokesman told AFP.

Nancy Reagan is also too frail to attend, a spokeswoman said.

Kohl, 83, the former German chancellor, told the Times newspaper that ill health will prevent him from attending.

He added that Thatcher's skepticism of a closer Europe is the root cause of ongoing "antagonism" between the UK and the European Union.

Thatcher's legacy also remains divisive in the UK, where opponents accuse her of ruining millions of lives with her free-market economic reforms and destroying the fabric of society.

Her supporters are championing for some sort of public memorial, but Cameron cooled speculation.

"I think we should take some time and think about this," he told Sky News.

Len Duvall, the leader of the Labour group on the London assembly, objected to the "inappropriate" suggestion.

"I would argue that Margaret Thatcher did great harm to many people in London, and to place a statue of her at the site of the Poll Tax riots, which symbolized just how divisive she was, would be crass triumphalism," he said.

Police said they wanted to make contact with protesters planning demonstrations at the funeral after several rowdy "Thatcher death parties" on Monday.

"I would ask anyone who wishes to demonstrate then, or in the coming days, to come and talk to us," said Commander Christine Jones, the officer in charge of the operation.

(China Daily 04/13/2013 page6)

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