Thatcher 'advocate of freedom': US ex-president Bush senior

Former US president George Bush on Monday hailed the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher as a "leader of rare character" and one of the "fiercest advocates of freedom" in the 20th century.

"Barbara and I were deeply saddened to learn of Baroness Thatcher's passing, and extend our heartfelt condolences to her children and loved ones," said Bush, who was US president during the last years of Thatcher's tenure as PM.

In a statement released by his spokesman, Bush called Thatcher "one of the 20th Century's fiercest advocates of freedom and free markets -- a leader of rare character who carried high the banner of her convictions."

Bush -- who also served as vice president to Ronald Reagan, with whom Thatcher shared a close bond -- said the former British leader, the only woman to have held the post, had "helped shape a better, freer world."

"America has lost one of the staunchest allies we have ever known; and yet we have confidence that her sterling record of accomplishment will inspire future generations," he said.

Thatcher died Monday at age 87 following a stroke.