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Late Singapore Leader Hailed as Visionary

  • Kate Lamb

The death of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, has sparked a flood of tributes for a man who has become synonymous with the modern state he created.

In ailing health and at age 91, Lee passed away early Monday at Singapore General Hospital.

Lee is credited with the transformation of a former tropical colonial outpost into an ultra-modern, global finance-and-trade hub.

Prioritizing clean and efficient governance, pro-business policies and social order, sometimes at the expense of democratic freedoms, Lee is revered for his results.

'True giant of history'

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama described Lee as a “true giant of history” while the White House said he was a “visionary” and “one of the great strategists of Asian affairs.”

Current Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son, depicted his late father as a man who unified and inspired a nation.

“He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together, and brought us here. He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We will not see another man like him. To many Singaporeans, and indeed others, too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore," Lee Hsien Loong said.

Across Asia, leaders have sought to emulate the Lee Kuan Yew model.

In Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Lee was "widely respected by the international community as a strategist and a statesman."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei hailed Singapore’s founding father as a uniquely Asian leader. Hong described Lee as an influential statesman and strategist who combined oriental values and international vision.

In neighboring Indonesia, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said Lee was a “very influential ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] leader, and a man who inspired the development of Asia.

President Najib Razak of Malaysia, the country from which Singapore separated in 1965, lauded Lee for his “determination in developing Singapore from a new nation to the modern and dynamic city we see today."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Lee was one of “Asia’s great leaders," while British Prime Minster David Cameron said Lee's “place in history is assured, as a leader and as one of the modern world's foremost statesmen.”

Influential role

Prime minister from 1959 until 1990, Lee Yuan Yew continued to play an influential role in the country’s politics even after he stepped down, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“In old age, he continued to keep a watchful eye on Singapore. Singapore was his abiding passion," his son said. "He gave of himself, in full measure, to Singapore. As he himself put it towards the end of his life and I quote: 'I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There's nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.’ ”

A week of official mourning has been declared in Singapore and a state funeral will be held March 29.

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