Supporters Turn Out To Pay Respects To Margaret Thatcher

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will be laid to rest Wednesday in an elaborate funeral that will be attended by the queen — her first of a politician since Winston Churchill's death in 1965. Thousands of police will deployed to protect the many expected to line the streets. Thatcher's death reignited anger from those who suffered from her harsh policies.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're going to go now to London, where earlier this morning the bells at St. Paul's Cathedral were ringing.

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GREENE: Soon, 2300 guests including the queen will attend a funeral there for the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Crowds are lining the streets of London, to watch as a horse drawn carriage takes the coffin to the cathedral.

And we have located NPR's Eleanor Beardsley who had ducked into a café, along on the parade route. And, Eleanor, what's the scene like there?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, good morning, David. Yeah, I ducked into this café because it's starting to drizzle. The crowds are very thick on the sidewalks here along this funeral route, waiting to get a glimpse of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's flag-draped coffin on a horse-drawn gun carriage. So it's a big ceremony. I can see the dignitaries arriving, a lot of big black hats on women...

GREENE: And who is out there? Who's come out for this event?

BEARDSLEY: A lot of people at this end our supporters, diehard supporters of Margaret. So they got up very early and are standing in the rain to witness history. And one of them is Stephanie Thredgle who I spoke to, and this is what she says about Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her legacy.

STEPHANIE THREDGLE: She made us great again, because before then we were in a hole, just like we are now. And she dug us out and made us feel proud to be British again. Before me, my parents had Churchill. But I had Thatcher, so I feel proud to be English again.

GREENE: And, Eleanor, is this a state funeral arranged by the government?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it's officially not a state funeral because parliament didn't vote on it. But critics are saying it's a state funeral in everything but name. Even the bells of Big Ben, the clock tower, had been silenced for the first time since Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965.

GREENE: Wow.

BEARDSLEY: So it feels like a state funeral.

GREENE: It's certainly attracting a lot of dignitaries, but Margaret Thatcher was, of course, a divisive figure. I mean which dignitaries are there? And who didn't come?

BEARDSLEY: From the U.S., we have former Secretary of State George Schultz and James Baker - two make figures in the Reagan administration who are here. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not come. Unofficially, Representative Michele Bachmann is said to be here, but she has said she wants to be America's Iron Lady, so...

GREENE: Huh.

BEARDSLEY: And Mikhail Gorbachev who worked with Margaret Thatcher to end the Cold War, he's not here either because he's ill. And, of course, the Argentinean ambassador is being said to boycott the funeral over the Falkland War.

GREENE: Michele Bachmann, a Republican who, of course, tried to run for president, talking about herself as a future Iron Lady.

Well, let me ask you are their protest out there? You know, some people even celebrated the death of Margaret Thatcher when it was announced on April 8th.

BEARDSLEY: Right, they did. You know, everyone is here is sort of girding for the protests. Because there have been groups who say they're going to turn their backs on her coffin when it arrives; you know, she's doing along route through the city. And one of her legacies was taking the free milk out of public schools, so she was known as Margaret Thatcher the Milk Snatcher. And other protest groups are saying they're going to throw milk along the parade route or line it with bottles.

So there've been plenty of threats and everyone is just, sort of, waiting to see what materializes.

GREENE: Alright, Eleanor, I'm sure we'll be checking back in with you later in the morning. Thanks so much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, David.

GREENE: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley talking to us from the parade route for the funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

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GREENE: This is NPR News.

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