Thatcher effigy torched as ex-miners celebrate death

GOLDTHORPE, Britain (AFP) - In a former colliery village in northern England, ex-miners still bitter about the 1980s coal pit closures under Margaret Thatcher's government celebrated her funeral on Wednesday by torching her effigy.

The demonstrators paraded the effigy of Britain's deeply divisive first woman premier through the streets of Goldthorpe in a mock coffin before setting it ablaze on a makeshift pyre of wooden pallets and a sofa.

Flames and black smoke filled the sky above the town's boarded-up, graffiti-tagged terraced houses as hundreds gathered around the blaze, taking pictures on their camera phones and raising a pint of beer as youngsters looked on.

Several onlookers spat on the coffin as the flames took hold, destroying the life-size figure of the "Iron Lady" - a papier mache head on a body clad in a red dress, black tights and red shoes.

"She destroyed our community. No jobs - people have no jobs. Goldthorpe used to be a thriving community," said Heather Hopwood, 51, the landlady of the local pub and the daughter of a miner.

Goldthorpe, near the town of Doncaster, is one of a string of pit villages in the South Yorkshire coalfield that to this day are still feeling the effects of the demise of its local colliery and the defeat to Mrs Thatcher's government in the 1984-1985 miners' strike.

Villages like it revolved entirely around the mine and the jobs it provided.

Mrs Thatcher remains a hate figure in the area and parties celebrating her death, which came last week at the age of 87, have been planned for decades.

The bunting was up and there was a festive atmosphere outside the Rusty Dudley pub.

England flags adorned the walls inside, while the balloons and ex-miners' tops bore the slogan "coal, not dole", which was common at the time of the strike.

"Thatcher the Iron Lady - rest in rust," read a banner pinned up outside.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Thatcher's Britain has gone bust," read another.

The year-long strike pitted the National Union of Mineworkers and its charismatic leader Arthur Scargill against Mrs Thatcher's Conservative administration, which wanted to close unprofitable and heavily state-subsidised pits.

Mrs Thatcher was determined not to be brought down by a miners' strike, as happened to her Conservative predecessor Ted Heath in 1974.

The strike ultimately collapsed in a major turning point for industrial relations in Britain, depriving the NUM of its political power and accelerating the coal industry's long post-war decline.

In Goldthorpe's High Street, it was party time outside the Union Jack Memorial Club, where a hundred people cheered, applauded and whistled when NUM banners were paraded past.

Just hours after Mrs Thatcher's funeral took place amid pomp and splendour in London's St Paul's Cathedral, a horse and cart pulled up outside the club in Goldthorpe bearing the replica coffin containing an effigy of the former Conservative leader.

A piper played as the "hearse" led a parade up the High Street.

"She was willing to let children starve," said Robbie Conroy, 66, a miner for more than 30 years who wore a hat with "rust in hell" written on it.

"I came down here in 1963 from Scotland because our pit closed. We were promised a future. Twenty years later it closed," he told AFP.

"There used to be 179 pits and 198,300 miners. Now there are three pits and 1,100 miners," he said, adding that there were still millions of tonnes of coal under the ground going to waste.