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France offers tributes and slurs to Thatcher

The Local/AFP · 8 Apr 2013, 17:08

Published: 08 Apr 2013 17:08 GMT+02:00

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The death of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the age of 87 sparked a mixed reaction in France on Monday.

While most politicians paid tribute to Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister, others on the far-left took the opportunity to lambast her for the way she dealt with the miners' strike in the 1980s.

French President François Hollande hailed former British prime minister as a "great figure who left a profound mark on the history of her country".

"Throughout her public life, with conservative beliefs she fully assumed, she was concerned with the United Kingdom's influence and the defence of its interests," Hollande said.

 "She maintained a relationship with France that was frank and honest," Hollande said, adding that Thatcher and former French president Francois Mitterrand had shared a "constructive and fruitful dialogue".

"Together they worked to strengthen the ties between our two countries. And it was at this time that Mrs Thatcher gave the decisive impetus to the construction of the cross-Channel tunnel," Hollande said.

The president also offered his "very strong and very sincere condolences" to Thatcher's family and loved ones.

Not all the reaction in France was positive, however.

Far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, renowned for being outspoken, took to Twitter to deliver his own “homage” to the leader of three consecutive Conservative governments.

“Margaret Thatcher will find out in hell, exactly what she did to the miners,” Melenchon tweeted.

The tweet was re-tweeted 500 times by his followers.

Given the role Thatcher played in undermining the power of Britain’s trade unions, their counterparts in France were critical of the former Tory chief.

“The Iron Lady did everything she could to break the expression and the fight of the British labour movement,” said Marc Blondel former secretary general of CGT-FO union. “She wanted to pacify the union movement but in doing so undermined democracy in her country.”

There was also a mixed reaction from France's former Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, who served under President François Mitterrand in the early 1980s.

Former Socialist Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, who in 1982 helped persuade his British counterpart to agree to the building of the Channel Tunnel, described Thatcher as a “formidable opponent”.

“She was a great British Prime Minister despite being conservative even reactionary,” Mauroy said, according to L’Express magazine.

The French press have also resurrected a famous line that Mitterrand himself once said about Thatcher.

"She has the eyes of Stalin and the voice of Marilyn Monroe," the former head of state from 1981 to 1995 is reported to have said.

There were predictably warmer tributes from France's right-wing politicians.

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Opposition UMP leader Jean-François Copé called Thatcher "an exceptional leader who knew, in every situation, how to defend her convictions and win out with them, without being too worried about polls or the pendulum of public opinion," the centre-right opposition leader said in a statement.

France's far-right National Front also paid homage to the woman known as the Iron Lady.

"The National Front salutes the memory of a leader of conviction, deeply attached to the sovereignty of her country, and a resolute opponent of a federal Europe," the party said in a statement.

The French press have been collating reaction from around the world and one person's reaction to Thatcher's passing was picked up across most news sites.

Prolific tweeter Joey Barton, now playing for Marseille, tweeted his own response to Thatcher's death.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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