Tributes paid to Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew

US president Barack Obama says former prime minister a ‘true giant of history’

Paying tribute at a Singapore community club yesterday following the death of Lee Kuan Yew. Photograph: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Paying tribute at a Singapore community club yesterday following the death of Lee Kuan Yew. Photograph: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images


Tributes were paid by world leaders yesterday to Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, who led the city state for more than three decades, following his death at the age of 91. Mr Lee’s son and current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, announced the news in the early hours of yesterday, local time.

US president Barack Obama called Mr Lee a “true giant of history”, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon called him a “legendary figure in Asia”, while China’s president, Xi Jinping, praised Lee as an “old friend of the Chinese people”.

His son struggled to hold back tears when he made a televised address to the nation, saying Mr Lee had built a nation and given Singaporeans a proud national identity.

Speaking in Malay, Mandarin and English, the prime minister said: “We won’t see another man like him. To many Singaporeans, and indeed others too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore. ”

State funeral Mr Lee said

his father would lie in state from tomorrow until Saturday at Parliament House so the public could pay their respects, before a state funeral on Sunday. He declared a period of national mourning from yesterday until next Sunday.

The People’s Action Party (PAP), which Mr Lee led to electoral victory in 1959 and which has governed Singapore ever since, set up a tribute website .

Mr Lee, a Cambridge-educated lawyer, is widely credited with building Singapore into one of the world’s wealthiest nations on a per-capita basis with a strong, pervasive role for the state and little patience for dissent. He co-founded the PAP and led the newly-born country when it was separated from Malaysia in 1965.

In 1990 he stepped down as prime minister, handing power to Goh Chok Tong, but remained influential as senior minister in Mr Goh’s cabinet and subsequently as “minister mentor” when Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister in 2004.

The older Lee left the cabinet in 2011 and had cut down his public appearances in recent months due to his age and declining health. Mr Lee was admitted to Singapore general hospital on February 5th for severe pneumonia and was later put on life support.

Mr Lee was feared for his authoritarian tactics but insisted strict limits on speech and public protest were necessary to maintain stability in the multiethnic and multi-religious state.

Maligah Thangavello and Dorai Josephine, healthcare assistants at Singapore general hospital, heard the news when they got on the bus on their way to work. “We treat him like our father,” said Maligah. “When I was 10 he came to my school and shook hands with all of us.”

“He is far away from us now,” said Dorai Josephine. “He was like a king, the king of Singapore. He did the best for Singapore.”

In a White House statement, Mr Obama said he appreciated Mr Lee’s wisdom, including during discussions they held on his trip to Singapore in 2009 when he was formulating his Asia-Pacific policy.

Giant of history

Mr Xi said Mr Lee, who was ethnically Chinese, was “widely respected by the international community as a strategist and a statesman” and expressed “sincere condolences” to his relatives. Mr Lee met China’s leaders multiple times and his model of political control allied to economic growth was seen as an example to China’s Communist Party as it embarked on reforms.

British prime minister David Cameron said: “Lady Thatcher once said that there was no prime minister she admired more than Mr Lee for ‘the strength of his convictions, the clarity of his views, the directness of his speech and his vision of the way ahead’. His place in history is assured, as a leader and as one of the modern world’s foremost statesmen.”

Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, also paid tribute to Mr Lee, calling him a political giant. She said his death was the end of an era.

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe called Mr Lee “a great Asian leader who laid the foundation for the prosperity of Singapore today”. – ( Guardian service)