French leaders hail Thatcher despite 'damage' of policies

PARIS (AFP) - France's Socialist President Francois Hollande on Monday hailed Margaret Thatcher as a "great figure who left a profound mark on the history of her country" after the former British leader died of a stroke.

But Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault commemorated the "Iron Lady" in less diplomatic terms, pointing to the "economic and social damage" of the policies she enacted while in power from 1979 to 1990.

"Throughout her public life, with conservative beliefs she fully assumed, she was concerned with the United Kingdom's influence and the defence of its interests," Mr Hollande said.

"She maintained a relationship with France that was frank and honest," Mr Hollande said, adding that Lady Thatcher and former French president Francois Mitterrand had shared a "constructive and fruitful dialogue".

"Together they worked to strengthen the ties between our two countries. And it was at this time that Mrs Thatcher gave the decisive impetus to the construction of the cross-Channel tunnel," Mr Hollande said.

Mr Ayrault, though, said he "did not share" all of Mrs Thatcher's ideas, while still paying tribute to "a great head of state." "It was another time, a time that was called the Thatcher years, the Reagan years, which caused significant economic and social damage, and excessive liberalisation," he said.

Right-wingers have hailed Mrs Thatcher as having hauled Britain out of the economic doldrums but the left accuses her of dismantling traditional industry, claiming her reforms helped unpick the fabric of society.

On the world stage, she built a close "special relationship" with United States president Ronald Reagan which helped bring the curtain down on Soviet Communism.

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