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World leaders pay tribute to Lee

/ 04:50 AM March 24, 2015

SINGAPORE—The United States and China on Monday led global acclaim for Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean statesman whose shrewd and sometimes caustic views on world affairs were much sought by his fellow leaders.

But as tributes poured in for the former prime minister, foreign rights campaigners said it was now time for Singapore to relax his authoritarian legacy.

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Lee is widely credited with transforming Singapore from a sleepy British imperial outpost into one of the world’s wealthiest societies as leader from 1959 to 1990.

“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,” US President Barack Obama said.

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Lee’s views “were hugely important in helping me formulate our policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific,” Obama said.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, said 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 lauded him for making “historic contributions” to the relationship, adding: “He was also a strategist with both Eastern values and international perspective.”

‘Legacy assured’

In the years after Britain’s withdrawal from outposts around the world, Lee created modern Singapore out of a stormy political union with Malaysia. Their ties remained turbulent down the years.

But in mourning Lee, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lauded his “determination in developing Singapore from a new nation to the modern and dynamic city we see today.”

“His legacy is assured,” he said.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that Lee was “sometimes a critical” friend of Britain but stressed his “place in history is assured, as a leader and as one of the modern world’s foremost statesmen.”

‘Lion among leaders’

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

India’s reformist Prime Minister Narendra Modi also reflected on Lee’s legacy, tweeting: “A farsighted statesman [and] a lion among leaders, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s life teaches valuable lessons to everyone.”

One lesson that Lee sought to impart was delivered in a sharp-tongued warning in 1980, when he said that Australians risked becoming “the poor white trash of Asia” unless they opened up their economy.

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

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Lee a “legendary figure in Asia.”

Rights groups, however, said 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.

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TAGS: acclaim, Lee Kuan Yew, Obit, Singapore, tributes
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