Ex-U.S. presidents to get invites, Argentine president snubbed for Thatcher’s sendoff

AFP-JIJI

Britain on Friday was to begin sending out 2,000 invitations for the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, with recipients ranging from all surviving U.S. presidents and British prime ministers to celebrities including “Top Gear” host Jeremy Clarkson.

But great figures from Thatcher’s Cold War era, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s widow, Nancy, will all be absent due to ill health.

Argentina, meanwhile, downplayed Britain’s decision not to invite President Cristina Kirchner in a sign of the tensions that still exist between the two countries following the 1982 Falklands War, regarded by the “Iron Lady” herself as her finest hour.

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, have already confirmed they will attend next Wednesday’s ceremonial funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral — the first time the monarch has attended the funeral of one of her prime ministers since Winston Churchill in 1965.

Thatcher died in London’s Ritz Hotel on Monday at the age of 87, after suffering a stroke. She was Britain’s first female prime minister and was in office from 1979 to 1990.

Invitations to the funeral were printed Thursday ready for dispatch Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Downing Street office said, as it released an initial list of invitees and those who have accepted.

A representative of Nelson Mandela’s family is among those invited, it said, although the 94-year-old former South African president, whose African National Congress Thatcher once called a “terrorist” group, is likely to be too frail to attend.

Former South African President F.W. De Klerk, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and ex-Australian Prime Minister John Howard will also get invites.

Celebrities including singing diva Shirley Bassey, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and Clarkson, presenter of the BBC television motoring program “Top Gear,” have already accepted invitations, Downing Street added.

David Frost, the broadcaster famous for interviewing Richard Nixon after he resigned in disgrace, and lyricist Tim Rice are also expected to attend.

The dress code for the funeral is described as “full day ceremonial without swords,” morning dress or a dark suit for men or a day dress with hat, while “medals and decorations may be worn.”