LONDON // The Queen and Tony Blair led tributes to Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday aged 87, but even in death she provoked fierce emotion as critics condemned her political career.
Flags hung at half mast over parliament and No10 Downing Street, where a crowd had gathered to pay their respects for Britain's first female prime minister and one of the most influential and divisive political figures in the country's history.
She was derided and venerated in equal measure for a political career in which she faced down labour unions, undermined much of Britain's traditional industry, reinvented the country's economy from a manufacturing into a service-based one, privatised much of Britain's state industries and fought and won a war against Argentina over the distant Falkland Islands.
But Britain – and the world – remains deeply divided over the legacy of the longest continuously serving prime minister, a woman who revelled in her image as the "Iron Lady", a moniker that was wielded by both supporters and opponents.
Queen Elizabeth II headed the list of those paying tribute. The British monarch was sad to hear the news of Thatcher's passing, and was sending a private message of condolences to the Thatcher family, said a Buckingham Palace spokesman.
David Cameron, the prime minister, called her a "great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton".
"As our first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds … she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country, and I believe she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister."
From across the political aisle, Labour leader Ed Miliband also offered his tribute, calling Thatcher a "unique figure" who "reshaped the politics of a whole generation".
Tony Blair, whose 10-year Labour premiership lasted just one year less than Thatcher's, was effusive, and acknowledged his own debt to her.
"Her global effect was great. And 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."
But news of her death also prompted negative reaction from those opposed to her policies.
Ken Livingstone said every Thatcher policy had been "fundamentally wrong". The former Labour mayor of London said he held her responsible for "every real problem" Britain faced today.
She "called Nelson Mandela a terrorist", tweeted George Galloway, a one-time Labour firebrand and now a member of parliament for his own Respect Party.
"I was there. I saw her lips move. May she burn in hell fires."
Gerry Adams, another man branded a terrorist by Thatcher, also did not hold back.
"Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as prime minister," said Mr Adams, who heads Sinn Fein, now Northern Ireland's second largest party but once the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
He recalled Thatcher's support for Chile's dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, as well as her opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Her policy on Ireland was a "failure" and her effect on international affairs "belligerent", he said.
And on the streets of London, opinions were equally divided.
"It's a sad day for the country," said Emily Whitehurst, 67, a retired retail office manager from Brighton in the south. "She was our last great living politician. She made it possible for people to be ambitious in this country and blazed a trail, especially for ambitious women."
But Jerry Cooper, 51, an educationalist and Labour Party member, said Thatcher "destroyed lives". Mr Cooper, of Newcastle in England's north-east, said many would be celebrating the news of her passing.
"She destroyed so much that was good in this country, so much of our industrial base, and she had no coherent strategy for getting people back into work. She just let them rot."
Thatcher passed away yesterday morning after a stroke. She had been suffering poor health for years, including dementia, and stopped giving public speeches in 2002.
She will not have a state funeral, but will be honoured at a ceremony with full military honours at London's St Paul's Cathedral, in the manner of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother. A date has not yet been set.