Thatcher hails Reagan, as new London statue unveiled

4th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher paid tribute to Ronald Reagan on Monday as a statue of the late US president was unveiled in London, even though frailty prevented her from attending.

In a statement read on her behalf during the ceremony outside the US embassy, timed to coincide with US Independence Day celebrations, Thatcher said Reagan was a "true leader for our times" as well as a personal friend.

Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary William Hague were among the dignitaries attending the unveiling of a 10-foot (three-metre) statue of Reagan to mark 100 years since his birth.

He died in 2004 at the age of 93, having served as president from 1981 to 1989.

Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990, had been invited to the ceremony but was unable to attend. She has suffered a series of minor strokes and has dementia, and has not been seen in public for months.

But in a statement read out by Hague on her behalf at the embassy in Grosvenor Square, she said of her Cold War ally: "Ronald Reagan was a great president and a great man -- a true leader for our times.

"He held clear principles and acted upon them with purpose. Through his strength and his conviction he brought millions of people to freedom as the Iron Curtain finally came down.

"It was a pleasure to be his colleague and his friend and I hope that this statue will be a reminder to future generations of the debt we owe him."

Reagan oversaw the end of the nuclear stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and a piece of the Berlin Wall will be installed in front of the statue as a reminder.

Attending as a representative of Reagan's widow Nancy, Rice paid tribute to the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States, saying it held because of a commitment to democratic values, which both Reagan and Thatcher defended.

"The special relationship is special because we have always understood that it is the irrepressible human spirit that ultimately triumphs because the desire for freedom is indeed universal," she said.

© 2011 AFP

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