SINGAPORE plunged into mourning and world leaders united in tribute yesterday following the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the ironfisted politician who forged a prosperous city-state out of unpromising beginnings.
His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, announced the death of his father, 91, at Singapore General Hospital following a long illness.
“He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won’t see another like him,” he said in an emotional TV address.
US President Barack Obama led foreign leaders in hailing Lee, who turned a small territory lacking natural resources into a world player in finance, trading, hi-tech industries and shipping – all the while with a heavy political grip that was long decried by rights campaigners.
The ethnic Chinese Lee’s mix of economic reform allied with political authoritarianism was of particular appeal to communist China, as it opened up in the 1980s.
President Xi Jinping praised Lee as an “old friend of the Chinese people” and said he was “widely respected by the international community as a strategist and a statesman”.
After news broke of Lee’s death, hundreds of Singaporeans, some weeping, visited the gates of the Istana state complex to leave flowers and cards, and sign a condolence board.
Some chanted “Mr Lee, Mr Lee” as a hearse carrying his body drove in for a two-day private family wake, after which his coffin will be borne on a gun carriage to lie in state at Parliament House.
A tearful Sharon Tan, 39, and her son Ryan Mackay, 5, were among the first to arrive.
“I brought Ryan here to share an important part of Singapore’s history and also to help him understand why mummy is so sad,” she said.
A state funeral service will be held at the National University of Singapore on Sunday before Lee is cremated, ending seven days of national mourning.