Lee Kuan Yew

Leaders pay tribute to Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew on his 90th birthday

Queen Elizabeth, Putin and Merkel lead tributes to Singapore's founding prime minister

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 11:11am

Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew received a standing ovation from members of parliament, cabinet ministers and visitors in the public gallery yesterday as he arrived at parliament in a wheelchair on his 90th birthday.

Former vice-premier Li Lanqing and Britain's Queen Elizabeth led a high-profile list of dignitaries offering birthday greetings to him.

A short tribute speech by leader of the house and Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen was greeted with much armchair-thumping. MPs lined up to greet him and shake his hand shortly after the house adjourned. However Lee, who devoted more than half a century of his life to public service, marked the milestone with little fanfare and enjoyed a private dinner with his family.

In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, Lee said he felt lucky to have enjoyed such a momentous occasion.

Queen Elizabeth led tributes to the former British colony, saying: "It is notable that this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence from the UK, and I am delighted that the links between our countries remain so strong".

Li Lanqing expressed gratitude for the ex-prime minister's efforts in building friendship between their two nations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Lee had "earned the greatest respect in international political and business circles".

German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel called Lee a decisive figure in shaping history.

Lee's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, told The Straits Times that Singapore would not have become what it is today without his father. "Nation-building is never complete, but Singapore would not be here today but for Mr Lee," he said.

Hundreds of messages posted on Twitter were largely positive.

Since Lee stepped down from government in 2011. His limited public appearances and age have stoked fears for his health.

He became prime minister in 1959, leading Singapore to independence from Malaysia in 1965, and subsequently transforming Singapore's fortunes. His People's Action Party won eight back-to-back electoral victories until he stepped aside in 1990.

Lee celebrated his birthday on the day that his adversary, Chin Peng, the former leader of the Malayan Communist Party, died.