Singaporeans mourn death of their country’s founder

World leaders and citizens of the city-state offer their condolences for influential former leader Lee Kuan Yew.

Thousands of tributes were left outside Singapore's General Hospital where Lee passed away on Sunday [AP]

Singaporeans and world leaders have paid tribute to Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew, who has died aged 91.

Officials said on Monday that the passing of the city-state’s former leader will be marked with seven days of national mourning, ahead of a state funeral next Sunday.

Locals placed hundreds of flowers, cards and banners, including one reading, “our hero”, outside the hospital where the country’s first prime minister died early on Monday morning and state television broke away from regular programming with a tribute to Lee’s life, calling his death the “awful and dreaded” news.

Christian Caryl, a journalist with Foreign Policy magazine and a senior fellow at the Legartum Institute, a foreign policy and advocacy organisation in London, told Al Jazeera that Lee’s leadership has proven inspirational and influential in the region.

“I think he will be remembered as a major statesman and a major figure in the history of the region, and as someone who forged a particular model that combined free market economics with authoritarian politics and that’s been a very, very consequential model for East Asia,” said Caryl.

World leaders also paid tribute, offering their condolences to the Singaporean people and Lee’s family.

Lee’s son, Singapore’s incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, struggled to hold back tears in a televised address to the nation.

Speaking in Malay, Mandarin and English, the prime minister said Lee built a nation and gave Singaporeans a proud national identity.

“We won’t see another man like him. To many Singaporeans, and indeed others too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore,” he said. 

His office also announced the mourning period and a family wake which will be held on Monday and Tuesday.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon  said in a statement that Lee was “a legendary figure in Asia, widely respected for his strong leadership and statemanship”.

US President Barack Obama said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the news, calling Lee a “visionary”.

“He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one of the great strategists of Asian affairs,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott , in a statement, said that the Asia-Pacific region “owed much to Lee Kuan Yew” calling him one of “the significant leaders of our time”. 

Despite his vital contribution to transforming the country from a small port city to a major financial and trade centre, Lee has also been criticised for being undemocratic, authoritarian and intolerant of dissent.

Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch organisation , said that Lee’s “tremendous role in Singapore’s economic development is beyond doubt, but it also came at a significant cost for human rights – and today’s restricted freedom of expression, self-censorship and stunted multi-party democracy is also a part of his legacy that Singapore now needs to overcome.”

“Singapore still is, for all intents and purposes, a one-party state where political opponents are targeted and contrary views muzzled,” Robertson added, “and that too is a part of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy that many of the new generation of Singaporeans are none too happy about.”

Source: Al Jazeera