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Thatcher’s coffin makes final visit to parliament

The Union Flag-draped coffin holding the body of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is carried from a hearse as it arrives at the Houses of Parliament in London Tuesday, April 16, 2013, to rest overnight before her funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday. AP PHOTO/SANG TAN

LONDON—The coffin of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was on Tuesday taken to the Houses of Parliament, which she dominated for more than a decade, on the eve of her funeral.

Dressed with the British flag and a large bouquet of white flowers with a card reading “Beloved Mother—Always in our Hearts,” her coffin was laid on a black bier and flanked by two lit white candles in the Palace of Westminster’s crypt chapel.

As Thatcher requested, her body will spend the last night before her funeral in parliament, where she served for more than half a century in both the lower and upper houses.

Her coffin will be taken from the chapel on Wednesday for the ceremonial funeral with full military honors at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a send-off not seen for a politician since the funeral of World War II prime minister Winston Churchill in 1965.

Thatcher, one of the giants of post-war Western politics, died on April 8 following a stroke. The “Iron Lady” was 87 and had been in frail health for some years.

Her coffin was driven through the British capital in a black hearse on its way to parliament from funeral directors in north London.

Passersby and tourists took pictures as it arrived at the Houses of Parliament, before four undertakers carried the coffin inside.

It was taken to the 13th-century Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft crypt to rest overnight.

A short service was held to receive the body, attended by around 100 people, including her twin children Mark and Carol.

The House of Commons speaker, senior parliamentarians, plus lawmakers and staff who worked closely with the former premier also attended.

Afterwards, the crypt opened for four hours until 9 p.m. (2000 GMT) to allow MPs, lords and parliamentary staff to pay their respects to the baroness.

The speaker’s chaplain, who ministers to lawmakers, will keep a vigil overnight.

The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. (1000 GMT) following a solemn procession that will see the coffin carried on a gun carriage through the streets of central London.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger led the latest list of guests announced by Prime Minister David Cameron’s office.

Former US vice president Dick Cheney, Britain’s last Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, London 2012 Games chairman Sebastian Coe and crown prince Pavlos of Greece are also due to attend, Downing Street said.

The official delegation from Washington will be led by two giants of Thatcher-era US diplomacy, Republican secretaries of state George Shultz and James Baker.

Cameron on Tuesday hosted a private dinner for invitees including Baker, Cheney and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to the domestic Press Association.

The Falklands War was one of the defining moments of Thatcher’s premiership and her coffin will be carried into the cathedral by troops from units that served in the 1982 conflict with Argentina.

Buenos Aires’ ambassador Alicia Castro was invited but declined to attend.

Cameron, Thatcher’s successor-but-four as leader of the Conservative Party, said last week her epitaph should be that she “made Britain great again” during her three terms in office from 1979 to 1990.

However, left-wingers remain bitter about her free-market reforms that brought sweeping changes to Britain’s industrial landscape.

Left-wing firebrands were preparing to castigate her legacy in the lower House of Commons chamber late Tuesday, even as her body rested in the parliamentary chapel.

Lawmaker George Galloway, best-known internationally for his involvement in Arab affairs, pledged to take full advantage of a procedural debate on whether to delay the start of proceedings in the Commons on Wednesday until after the funeral has finished.

The move would mean scrapping Cameron’s weekly session facing questions from lawmakers.

“This was a wicked and divisive woman who was hated by half of the country and did great damage to a society she said didn’t exist. People think the canonization of Lady Thatcher has gone on long enough,” Galloway said.

However, the motion to delay the session is certain to pass, on the votes of other MPs.

Security gates, concrete barricades and television gantries have been set up around St. Paul’s.

More than 4,000 police officers will be on duty, amid fears that far-left activists could seek to disrupt the procession.

“We have been approached by a small number of people planning to protest,” said police Commander Christine Jones.

“Should the need arise to arrest those who are committing acts of crime or violence, or conspiring to do so, we will respond accordingly.”—Robin Millard

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Tags: Britain , Margaret Thatcher , Politics

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