Obituary : Margaret Thatcher, Britain's First and only woman prime minister

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Britain's First and only woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, known as the "Iron Lady" for her personal and political toughness, has died of illness. The unyielding, outspoken Thatcher led the Conservatives to three election victories, governing from 1979 to 1990 (11 yrs), the longest continuous period in office by a British premier since the early 19th century (since Lord Liverpool in 1812 to 1827). John Major succeeded her in 1990. In 2007, she became the first British prime minister to be honoured with a statue in the Houses of Parliament while still alive.

Held by critics as a divisive figure, Thatcher's political philosophy, which later became known as Thatcherism, involved less state intervention and a commitment to free markets and entrepreneurialism.Thatcher struck up a close relationship with US President Ronald Reagan in the Cold War, and shared his belief that free markets would build a better country than reliance on a strong, central government. As her government began to introduce her free-market economic policies, including reduced expenditures on services such as education and housing, unemployment rose sharply. Thatcher's government privatised several state-owned industries and was involved in a year-long stand-off with unions during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5. Controversial policies includes the poll tax, which appeared to shift the tax burden from rich to poor, and her increasingly strident opposition to any closer integration with Europe. Also, she was determined to lessen the power of the trade unions which she saw as holding the country to ransom leading to strikes in 1980's which turned into a violent and bitter dispute and split the country. Following the action, the unions went into steep decline, losing much of their power, rights and influence as well as millions of members.

She faced fierce criticism over her opposition to economic sanctions over South Africa's apartheid regime. She backed Reagan's policy of deterrence against the Soviet Union, causing friction with allies who still adhered to the idea of détente that had been followed in the 1970s. Her supporters credit her stance as playing a part in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Thatcher government is also remembered for sending a taskforce to recapture the Falkland Islands after a 1982 invasion by Argentine forces.Thatcher had long been a target for the Irish Republican Army which was waging a violent campaign for a united Ireland. In October 1984, a hotel she was staying in was bombed by the IRA in a clear attempt to kill her and her cabinet.

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