Death of Lee Kuan Yew: Live Report

Judy Ngao and AFP reporters in Singapore
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A Singapore flag flies at half mast at Singapore General Hospital following Lee Kuan Yew's death

05:57 GMT - AFP IS CLOSING ITS LIVE REPORT as Singapore plunges into mourning after the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the iron-fisted politician who forged a prosperous city-state out of unpromising beginnings.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has declared seven days of national mourning until his father is cremated on March 29.

05:31 GMT - Tributes from world leaders - Prime Minister David Cameron notes that Lee was "sometimes a critical" friend of Britain but stresses his "place in history is assured, as a leader and as one of the modern world's foremost statesmen".

"Our region owes much to Lee Kuan Yew," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says, adding that "today we mourn the passing of a giant of our region".

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying has hailed Lee's "integrity, tenacity, vision and drive", adding that the former prime minister had "laid the most solid foundation possible for the impressive economic development, prosperity and social harmony that epitomises Singapore today."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Lee "a great Asian leader who laid the foundation for the prosperity of Singapore today".

05:30 GMT - Funeral details - The Lee family will hold a private wake at the Istana over the next couple of days. Lee's body will then be carried on a gun carriage to Parliament House, where it will lie in state for the public to pay their respects until Saturday. Lee will be accorded a full state funeral on Sunday.

Singapore's Parliament will convene for a special sitting on Thursday for MPs to pay tribute to Lee, the clerk of parliament tells AFP in an emailed statement.

05:21 GMT - Hearse arrives - A crowd of about 100 people gathered outside the Istana state complex starts chanting "Mr Lee! Mr Lee!" as a white hearse carrying Lee Kuan Yew's remains enters the main gate at 12:50pm (0450 GMT), AFP's Stefanus Ian reports. The hearse was escorted by at least a dozen police vehicles.

Sales manager June Tay Mae Sann, 37, says she dropped by during her lunch break to offer her condolences. "I work (nearby) but it wouldn't have mattered if I worked very far away because Mr Lee built my country basically," she tells AFP.

Despite most Singaporeans bracing for his death in recent weeks, "it was still very different when it happened" Tay tearfully adds.

05:10 GMT - Born on September 16, 1923 to a 20-year-old father whom he described as a "rich man's son, with little to show for himself" and a 16-year-old bride in an arranged marriage, Lee Kuan Yew grew up thinking British colonial rulers were invincible.

He had a rude awakening during World War II after Japanese invaders easily overran British forces and took over Singapore in 1942, shattering the myth of European supremacy in Asia.

Lee survived massacres of civilians and at one point worked for Japanese propaganda. After liberation, he left to study law at Cambridge, where he secretly wed his classmate Kwa Geok Choo before returning home in 1950.

Lee was shaken by Kwa's passing after more than 60 years of marriage and admitted that "at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief".

They had three children, the oldest of whom is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Daughter Lee Wei Ling became a doctor, and son Lee Hsien Yang became a top corporate figure.

04:59 GMT - Modi tweets - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has offered his condolences on Twitter.

"In this hour of bereavement, our prayers are with Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's family and the people of Singapore. May his soul rest in peace," Modi says.

"A far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life teaches valuable lessons to everyone. News of his demise is saddening."

04:44 GMT - Greater political freedoms? - Rights groups say Lee's death should open the door to greater political freedom in Singapore, where opposition leaders have been jailed, or driven to self-imposed exile or financial ruin as a result of costly libel suits.

Singapore strictly controls freedom of speech and assembly. While it has become more liberal in recent years, it still uses corporal punishment and ranks 150th in the annual press freedom ranking of Reporters Without Borders -- below Russia and Zimbabwe among others.

"Lee Kuan Yew's tremendous role in Singapore's economic development is beyond doubt, but it also came at a significant cost for human rights," says Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of US-based Human Rights Watch.

04:27 GMT - 'Legacy assured' - Malaysian Premier Najib Razak has lauded Lee for building Singapore into a "modern and dynamic nation".

"I am saddened to hear about the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, founding Prime Minister of Singapore," Najib says in a statement released by his office.

"I pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's determination in developing Singapore from a new nation to the modern and dynamic city we see today.

"His achievements were great, and his legacy is assured."

Relations between the two nations had been testy for much of their history, ever since Lee led Singapore to independence in 1965 after a brief and stormy union with Malaysia.

Despite that, steady relations have remained important to each side, especially their deep trade ties, and have improved in recent years under Lee's son, current leader Lee Hsien Loong, and Najib.

04:26 GMT - 'We want to thank him' - AFP reporters outside the Istana complex says over 500 people have come by to pen condolence messages this morning. Some have left bouquets of flowers.

Edmund Chen, a popular local television actor, says he has come to the Istana to "pay respects to this wonderful man".

"We are actually quite sad, we just want to thank him," Chen says.

03:59 GMT - Letters of condolence - Singapore opposition figure Chee Soon Juan, who was once bankrupted by libel suits initiated by Lee Kuan Yew and other government leaders, has sent a letter of condolence to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two siblings.

"I send you and your loved ones my deepest condolences on the demise of your father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In this time of personal grief, our thoughts are with you," wrote Chee, the secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party.

Earlier, de-facto opposition leader Low Thia Khiang joined the rest of the nation of 5.5 million in mourning Lee.

"His contributions to Singapore will be remembered for generations to come," said Low, who leads the Workers' Party, which has seven seats in Singapore's 87-seat parliament.

03:41 GMT - Prime Minister's message - Singaporean leader Lee Hsien Loong addressed the nation this morning in a moving video posted on the prime minister's office's YouTube page.

"The first of our founding fathers is no more," Lee says. "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 won't see another man like him.

"To many Singaporeans, and indeed others too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore. As prime minister, he pushed us hard to achieve what has seemed impossible. After he stepped down, he guided his successors with wisdom and tact.

"In his old age, he continued to keep a watchful eye on Singapore. Singapore was his abiding passion. 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.'"

Watch the full video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6bJsiQPCoQ&feature=youtu.be

03:34 GMT - 'Old friend' to China: Xi Jinping - China's President Xi Jinping today praised Lee as an "old friend of the Chinese people".

Xi says Lee, who was ethnically Chinese, is "widely respected by the international community as a strategist and a statesman" and expresses "sincere condolences" to his relatives.

Lee was the "founder, pioneer and promoter of China-Singapore relations", Xi says in a message sent to Singapore President Tony Tan, China's foreign ministry said on its website.

03:18 GMT - International profile - Under Lee's watch, Singapore became a sea trade, air transport and financial hub as well as a high-tech industrial centre, prospering despite its compact size and lack of basic natural resources.

"I have to say his success is in taking advantage of Singapore's natural assets, by which I particularly mean using its geography at the end of the Malay peninsula and on the end of the Malacca Strait," says Michael Barr, associate professor of international relations at Australia's Flinders University who wrote a book on Lee's career.

On the diplomatic front, Lee's counsel was often sought by Western leaders, particularly on China and more volatile neighbours in Southeast Asia.

"It cannot be denied that Lee Kuan Yew gave Singapore an international profile completely disproportionate to the country's size," says Singapore-based political analyst Derek da Cunha.

"It could be argued that Singapore would probably have been an international irrelevancy if not for Lee Kuan Yew."

02:50 GMT - Teary farewells - AFP reporter Amir Yusof says people have wasted no time in paying their condolences to Lee as they stop by the Istana complex to drop off flowers and cards and scribble "thank you" messages on a tribute board on their way to work and school.

A few were in tears, including mother Sharon Tan, 39, who brought along her son Ryan Mackay, 5.

"I brought Ryan here to share an important part of Singapore's history with him and also to help him understand why mummy is so sad," Tan says. "Mr Lee will always be a big part of Singapore."

Anthony Pain, a Frenchman and international tax consultant, also wrote a tribute on the wall to the man he says "changed his life".

"I read his books, including the one entitled 'From Third World to First'," Pain, 39, says. "He has changed my life. If not for him, I would still be living in France. He is a man of vision and has changed the destiny of this country."

02:40 GMT - Thai ambassador to Singapore - Our correspondent Stefanus Ian says Thailand's ambassador to Singapore Bansarn Bunnag was one of the first dignitaries to sign on the condolence wall outside the Istana office complex.

"On behalf of the Thai people, I wish to express the deepest condolences to the demise of H.E Mr Lee Kuan Yew," the handwritten note says.

"It is indeed a great loss of the nation, ASEAN and the whole world. We will never forget him. The Kingdom of Thailand mourns for him."

02:24 GMT - Sino-Singapore relations - Dismissive of liberal democracy, Lee anticipated the emergence of China as a world power and established close links with Beijing, giving Singapore investors enviable access to the giant market.

His model of discipline allied to economic growth served as an example to China's Communist leaders as they embarked on reforms.

For his part Lee identified China as a driver of world economic growth early on, and advised leaders of both Beijing and the West on each other.

Chinese web portal Netease said Lee had visited the country 33 times since 1976.

02:07 GMT - 'Creator and founder' of ties with China - In a statement posted online, China has praised Lee as "an Asian statesman of unique influence".

"He was also a strategist with both Eastern values and international perspective," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei says in the statement.

Lee was the "creator and founder" of ties between the city-state, which is ethnically majority Chinese, and the world's most populous country, Hong says, lauding him for making "historic contributions" to the relationship.

China expresses "deep condolences and sincere solicitude to the Singaporean government, its people and the relatives of Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his passing", Hong says.

01:45 GMT - 'Remembering Lee Kuan Yew' - Online tributes to the former prime minister can also be read at the official website 'Remembering Lee Kuan Yew' at www.rememberingleekuanyew.sg. However, most of the website is inaccessible due to 'maintenance'.

"Parts of the www.rememberingleekuanyew.sg is currently down for maintenance," a message on the website states.

"Full functionalities would resume shortly, and we sincerely apologise for any inconveniences caused. Thank you."

01:36 GMT - Singaporeans mourn - AFP reporter Stefanus Ian is seeing crowds streaming in to pen their tributes at the front gate of the Istana state complex, which houses the offices of the prime minister and president.

01:10 GMT - Quotable quotes - Here are some notable quotes from Lee.

On his iron-fisted governing style:

"Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no way you can govern a Chinese society."

On his political opponents:

"If you are a troublemaker... it's our job to politically destroy you... Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac."

On his policy of matching male and female university graduates to produce smart babies:

"If you don't include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society... So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That's a problem."

On his wife of 63 years, Kwa Geok Choo, who died in October 2010:

"Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life... I should find solace in her 89 years of a life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief."

On death:

"There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach."

01:02 GMT - 'True giant of history' - US President Barack Obama has hailed Lee as a visionary and "true giant of history".

"A visionary who led his country from Singapore's independence in 1965 to build one of the most prosperous countries in the world today, he was a devoted public servant and a remarkable leader," the president says in a glowing tribute.

"I personally appreciated his wisdom, including our discussions during my trip to Singapore in 2009, which were hugely important in helping me formulate our policy of rebalancing to the Asia Pacific.

"He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one the great strategists of Asian affairs."

01:00 GMT - Authoritarian leader - Lee was an authoritarian leader who transformed Singapore from a sleepy British imperial outpost into a global trading and financial centre.

The Cambridge-educated lawyer set Singapore on a path that has seen average incomes rise 100 times, with investments across the globe, a widely respected civil service and world-class infrastructure.

But he was criticised for his iron-fisted rule, forcing several opposition politicians into bankruptcy or exile, and once invoked Machiavelli in declaring: "If nobody is afraid of me, I'm meaningless."

But in his last years, he was a shadow of his old self as his health deteriorated following his beloved wife's death in October 2010.

00:42 GMT - National Mourning - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has declared a period of National Mourning from today until Sunday.

"Mr Lee's body will lie in state at Parliament House from 25 March (Wednesday) to 28 March (Saturday), for the public to pay their respects," says a statement released by the government.

"A State Funeral Service will be held at 2 pm on 29 March (Sunday) at the University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore."

A private family wake will be held over the next two days at Sri Temasek, the statement adds.

00:32 GMT - Do not resuscitate - Two years before the elder Lee died, he disclosed that he had signed a medical directive instructing doctors not to use any life-sustaining treatment if he could not be resuscitated.

The widely revered patriarch's death is likely to cast a pall over preparations for Singapore's 50th anniversary of independence on August 9.

Lee was prime minister from 1959, when colonial ruler Britain granted Singapore self-rule, to 1990. He led Singapore to independence in 1965 after a brief and stormy union with Malaysia.

00:16 GMT - WELCOME TO AFP'S LIVE REPORT ON the death of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, one of the towering figures of post-colonial Asian politics. He passed away early this morning in hospital, where he had been in intensive care since February 5 with severe pneumonia.

Lee's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said in a statement that he was "deeply grieved to announce the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore".

"Mr Lee passed away peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital today at 3.18 am," the statement said. He was 91.