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Britain's Margaret Thatcher earns lavish praise on 80th birthday

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London (dpa) - Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was hailed by friend and foe as one of the 20th century's great politicians on her 80th birthday Thursday.

Tributes marking the milestone birthday poured in ahead of a lavish reception at a London hotel Thursday evening due to be attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, former conservative prime minister John Major, singer Shirley Bassey, the actress Joan Collins and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber were among the 700 guests.

John Profumo, who resigned as war secretary and from the House of Commons in 1963 over an affair with call-girl Christine Keeler, will also be there.

Michael Howard, outgoing leader of the Conservative Party, Thursday praised praised Thatcher's "political will and iron courage".

"What Churchill did in wartime, Margaret Thatcher did in peacetime," Howard said.

Tony Benn, the Labour veteran and leftwing politician, said of Thatcher's 11 years as prime minister from 1979 to 1990: "Mrs Thatcher said what she meant and meant what she said. And did it."

Longtime Labour politician Tam Dalyell, who was twice ejected from the House of Commons for calling Thatcher a "liar" over the 1982 Falklands war, said, "Thatcher's untruths pale into insignificance compared to the lies Blair has told us in relation to the Iraq war."

Former conservative foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe, who was sacked by Thatcher, credited his former boss with a double triumph.

"The real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible," said Howe.

For Thatcher, who has been banned by doctors from speaking in public after a series of strokes, the birthday celebrations are likely to be her last major appearance in the public eye.

Her aide, Cynthia Crawford, said Thursday: "She (Thatcher) cannot believe she is 80 and neither can I. She looks absolutely wonderful."

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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