Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dead at 87

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher (Credit: Margaret Thatcher (Getty Images))

Margaret Thatcher, the "Iron Lady" who transformed Britain and inspired conservatives around the world by radically rolling back the state during her 11 years in power, died on Monday following a stroke. She was 87.

Britain's only woman prime minister, the unyielding, outspoken Thatcher led the Conservatives to three election victories, governing from 1979 to 1990, the longest continuous period in office by a British premier since the early 19th century.

A grocer's daughter with a steely resolve, she was loved and loathed in equal measure as she crushed the unions, privatized vast swathes of British industry, clashed with the European Union and fought a war to recover the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.

She struck up a close relationship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the Cold War, backed the first President George Bush during the 1991 Gulf War, and declared that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a man she could do business with.

"Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast," said Tony Blair, Labour prime minister from 1997-2007.

"Some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour Government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world," said Blair.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to Europe to return to Britain after the death was announced and British flags on government buildings and royal palaces across London were lowered to half mast.

U.S. President Barack Obama said: "America has lost a true friend."

Mourners began to lay roses, tulips and lilies on the doorstep of her house in Belgravia, one of London's most exclusive areas. One note said: "The greatest British leader" while another said to "the iron lady".

Thatcher died peacefully on Monday morning at the Ritz hotel after a stroke. She had been in poor health for months and had declined into dementia in her final years.

Lord Bell, a spokesman for the family, compared her to her hero Winston Churchill, while Cameron said she would go down as Britain's greatest peacetime prime minister.

"We've lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton," Cameron said. "The real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country."

The British government said Thatcher would have a ceremonial funeral with military honors at London's St Paul's Cathedral, which falls short of a full state funeral, in accordance with the wishes of her family.

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