World leaders have paid tribute to former Conservative British prime minister Margaret Thatcher who died this morning following a stroke.
Known as the "Iron Lady", Baroness Thatcher (87) had been in ill health for more than a decade, and was staying in a suite at the Ritz hotel in London while recuperating from a minor operation.
US president Barack Obama led tributes from world leaders to Margaret Thatcher, saying: "The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend."
President Michael D Higgins said Mrs Thatcher’s place in history has been secured. “She will be remembered as one of the most conviction-driven British prime ministers who drew on a scholarship that demanded markets without regulation,” Mr Higgins said.
Britain's only woman prime minister, the tough, outspoken leader led the Conservatives to three election victories, governing from 1979 to 1990 - which was the longest continuous period in office on the part of a British prime minister since the early 19th century.
"It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning," spokesman Lord Tim Bell said.
A grocer's daughter with a steely resolve, she became loved and loathed in equal measure as she crushed the unions, adopted a hard line against republicanism in Northern Ireland and privatised vast swathes of British industry.
British prime minister David Cameron, who was in Madrid on a European tour, immediately returned to Britain to announce parliament was being recalled from its Easter recess, describing her as Britain's "patriot prime minister".
In a statement in Downing Street, delivered a few feet from where Thatcher quoted St Francis of Assisi as she entered No 10 for the first time in 1979, Cameron praised the "lion-hearted love" for Britain of the country's longest-serving prime minister in the 20th century.
The union flag above No 10 Downing Street, the home she inhabited for longer than any other modern British prime minister, was lowered to half-mast - as were those above Buckingham Palace and many other landmarks across the country.
The flag was flying at half-mast too at the visitor centre in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, the British outpost to which she dispatched a taskforce to rebuff an Argentinian invasion, sealing her reputation as the "Iron Lady".
Within an hour of her death being announced, flowers were being left outside the London home she had become too frail to live in unaided in recent months, as well as the premises of the grocer's shop in Grantham, north-east England, where she grew up.
In her last days, she had seemed peaceful, according to friends. An intimate account of her last hours was given yesterday by Lady Carla Powell, the Italian wife of Thatcher's former diplomatic adviser Lord Powell, who had visited her often in her declining years, and whose house outside Rome the former prime minister had visited on several occasions.
Lady Powell said her husband had told her after leaving Thatcher on Sunday night that he had sat beside her bed. "She dozes off to sleep quite often and then she wakes up and we chat for a bit," she quoted her husband as saying.
Thatcher will be given a ceremonial funeral with military honors, Mr Cameron's office said in a statement .
Her final journey will take her from Parliament in Westminster to St. Paul's Cathedral, in an event that will fall just one step short of a full state funeral.
State funerals are generally reserved for monarchs, though they differ little. The last non-royal to receive a state funeral was Winston Churchill, in recognition of his leadership as Britain's prime minister during World War II.
It is understood that Thatcher had been consulted on the details of the service, which is expected to reflect her love of Elgar. There will be no public lying in state at her request, it is understood.
Queen Elizabeth II has led tributes in Britain to the nation’s only female prime minister.The Queen been saddened by the death of Baroness Thatcher, Buckingham Palace said today.
Current UK Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “I send my deep condolences to Lady Thatcher’s family, in particular Mark and Carol Thatcher.”
Not all the statements were laudatory. Mrs Thatcher’s death was a “great day” for coal miners, David Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association said. The ex-miner, who turned 70 today, spent all of his working life at Wearmouth Colliery. He said: “It looks like one of the best birthdays I have ever had. “There’s no sympathy from me for what she did to our community. She destroyed our community, our villages and our people.
Many world leaders mourned former Thatcher with discordant criticism coming from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. “Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister.
“In Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering. She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations, including the targeting of solicitors like Pat Finucane, alongside more open military operations and refused to recognise the rights of citizens to vote for parties of their choice,” Mr Adams said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hailed her for recognizing early on the potential of eastern Europe's pro-democracy groundswell. "I will not forget her role in overcoming the division of Europe and in ending the Cold War," Dr Merkel said.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev called Thatcher a "brilliant" individual. Thatcher famously termed Gorbachev a man she could "do business with" in words that damped East- West tensions.
European Commission President Jose Barroso noted Thatcher's "reserves" about the European Union but said "she was without a doubt a great stateswoman."
French President Francois Hollande said the relationship Thatcher had with France "was always frank and loyal."
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, said that as the first female prime minister of the UK her service "was a history-making achievement."
Mrs Thatcher had suffered several small strokes in 2002, and received medical advice against accepting any more public speaking engagements.Her increasingly frail condition when she was seen - especially after the death of husband Denis in 2003 - led to frequent bouts of speculation about her health.
However, MPs and friends who saw her regularly said she remained alert and interested in politics, and she was not known to have deteriorated notably recently.
Ms Thatcher earned a place in history as the first female British prime minister when she entered Downing Street in 1979. Over the next 11 years even her critics admitted that she changed the face of the country. In recent years her health deteriorated, and she stopped making public appearances.