World Leaders Celebrate Thatcher as Champion of Democracy

World leaders mourned former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died today at the age of 87, with discordant criticism coming from the leader of Ireland’s Sinn Fein party.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who lived in communist East Germany during Thatcher’s government from 1979 until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, 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,” Merkel said in an e-mailed statement in Berlin. Thatcher also “was an example to many” women leaders who came after her, said Merkel, who was also her nation’s first female leader.

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.

While their contacts were “difficult” at first, “gradually the relationship turned more human, becoming increasingly more friendly,” Gorbachev said in a statement on his fund’s website. “At the end we managed to reach a mutual understanding and that made a contribution to changing the atmosphere between our country and the west and ending the Cold War.”

President Barack Obama said in a statement that Thatcher had been an “unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance” who had known “that with strength and resolve we could win the Cold War and extend freedom’s promise.”

‘True Friend’

“The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend,” Obama said. “As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.”

European Commission President Jose Barroso noted Thatcher’s “reserves” about the European Union. Still, he said in an e-mailed statement “she was without a doubt a great stateswoman.” He said Thatcher played a leading role in bringing “central and eastern European countries which were formerly behind the Iron Curtain” into the EU.

French President Francois Hollande said the relationship Thatcher had with France “was always frank and loyal.”

“Throughout her public life, with her firmly held conservative beliefs, she was always careful to defend Britain’s image and its interests,” Hollande, a Socialist, said in a statement.

‘A Great Woman’

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said “she was a great woman” in remarks to Bloomberg News as he arrived at an event in Mannheim, Germany. Schaeuble played a key role in negotiating the treaty that led to reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. Thatcher opposed German reunification.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Thatcher “a staunch friend of Israel and the Jewish people.”

“She was truly a great leader, a woman of principle, of determination, of conviction, of strength; a woman of greatness,” Netanyahu said according to a statement.

Former Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus was quoted by the BBC as saying “Thatcher was one of the greatest politicians of our time; in the Czech Republic she was our hero.”

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, said in a statement that as the first female prime minister of the U.K., her service “was a history-making achievement.”

‘Conviction’

“Her strength of conviction was recognized by her closest supporters and her strongest opponents,” Gillard said.

Critical words came from Gerry Adams, leader of the Sinn Fein party which has as its main objective a united Ireland and an end to Northern Ireland’s U.K. link. During the region’s three decades long conflict, Sinn Fein supported the Irish Republican Army.

“Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “Working-class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies” and “her role in international affairs was equally belligerent.”

“Here in Ireland, her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering,” Adams said. “She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations.”

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