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LONDON – Global leaders expressed praise and admiration Monday for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as news spread of her death. Today's British leader, David Cameron, summed up the consensus from friend and foe alike that the Iron Lady was "a great Briton."
"As our first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds," Cameron said in Madrid as he cut short a trip to Spain and canceled a visit to France to return home to lead funeral preparations for the longtime leader of his Conservative Party.
"The real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country," Cameron said, "and I believe she'll go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister."
As flags across the United Kingdom were lowered to half mast, Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II would send a private message of sympathy to the Thatcher family.
Across Europe and the world, leaders lauded Thatcher for her steely determination to modernize Britain's industrial landscape — even at the cost of violent strikes and riots — and to stand beside the United States as the west triumphed in the Cold War versus the Soviet Union.
In Poland, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said his country should erect a statue of the British leader. In a tweet he praised Thatcher as "a fearless champion of liberty, stood up for captive nations, helped free world win the Cold War."
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ousted the Conservatives from power seven years after Thatcher's resignation, conceded that Thatcher had been right to challenge labor union power — the traditional bedrock for Blair's own Labour Party.
"Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast," said Blair, who credited Thatcher with being "immensely supportive" despite their opposing views on many issues.
"You could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain's national life," Blair said.
Discordant notes came from Northern Ireland and Argentina, where Thatcher's reputation for unbending determination received early tests — when breaking an Irish Republican Army prison hunger strike in 1981, then leading Britain into a 1982 war to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.
Argentina's government offered no official reaction, but scores of Argentinians posted criticisms of her on Twitter, blaming her for the deaths of 649 Argentine troops during the South Atlantic conflict. Some 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders also died.
Falklands lawmaker Mike Summers said Thatcher was "one of very few political leaders who could have mounted the expedition she mounted in 1982 to restore our freedom, and from a Falkland Islands perspective she will be forever remembered for that."
Britain's pop culture icons past and present also sounded off about the woman who dominated British political landscape through the 1980s.
"Thinking of our 1st Lady of girl power, Margaret Thatcher, a green grocer's daughter who taught me anything is possible," tweeted a former member of the Spice Girls band, Geri Halliwell.