Singapore, Mar 29: Tens of thousands of people on Sunday braved heavy rains to bid a teary adieu to Singapore's founding leader Lee Kuan Yew in a grand funeral attended by many world leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who described him as one of the "tallest leaders of our times".
91-year-old Lee, the city-state's prime minister for 31 years and widely respected as the architect of Singapore's prosperity, died of severe pneumonia on March 23. [India deeply valued Lee's friendship and his support: PM Modi]
Global dignitaries, including monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and former leaders, joined hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans in a state funeral service which was telecast live and streamed on various social media.
Prime Minister Modi arrived in Singapore this morning and attended the service. Defence sirens were blown throughout Singapore's housing estates for a minute of silence to pay respects as the last post was played on by a military bugler.
Earlier, Singaporeans lined up amid heavy downpour along a 15.4 km route on which Lee's coffin, draped in red-and-white Singapore flag and protected from the downpour by a glass casing, made a journey from Parliament House to the University Cultural Center at the National University of Singapore, where the service was held. Lee's body had been lying in state at the Parliament for the public to pay respects to the leader.
More than 450,000 people had paid their last respects to Lee during the week. The Singapore Armed Forces, which was established by Lee, gave the highest honour to the leader with a 21-gun salute, a fly-past by the air force planes and sail-past by naval boats.
A 21-gun salute is normally reserved for sitting heads of state but an exception was made for Lee. Lee's son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong led the eulogies read out at the service, giving an emotional tribute to his father.
Prime Minister Lee said his father had "lived and breathed Singapore all his life". "The light that has guided us all these years has been extinguished," he said.
Soon after his arrival here, Prime Minister Modi lauded Lee as a "global thinker" and said India deeply valued his friendship and his support for its economic progress. Modi, who had earlier visited Singapore as Gujarat Chief Minister in October 2006, said the former Singapore Prime Minister was "among the tallest leaders of our times".
Apart from Modi, several world leaders attended Lee's funeral, including former US President Bill Clinton, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, Malaysian King Abdul Halim Shah and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
Lee is widely credited with transforming Singapore from an impoverished third-world nation into an advanced first- world economy within just a generation.
Lee is credited with shaping the city-state's present status as a global financial and commercial hub. He became Singapore's first prime minister in 1959, when the island gained self-rule from Britain, and ruled with an iron fist for 31 years. Singapore became a republic in 1965 after a brief and stormy union with Malaysia.
Lee stepped down in 1990 in favour of his deputy Goh Chok Tong, who in turn was succeeded by Lee's son. Noting that Singapore's transformation in one generation is a tribute to Lee's leadership, Modi said his death marks the end of an era.
"He inspired not just Southeast Asia, but all of Asia, to believe in its own destiny," he said. "In the 50th anniversary year of Singapore's independence, I am sure that he (Lee) left satisfied with Singapore's achievements and confident about its future."
Modi underlined India's relations with Singapore, saying it "is one of our strongest relationships" in the world. "India's integration with Southeast Asia and beyond is growing. Singapore is a key pillar of India's Act East Policy," the prime minister said.
"Personally, he was a source of inspiration for me. His achievements and thoughts give me confidence in the possibility of India's own transformation," Modi said.
At the service, apart from Prime Minister Lee, eulogies were read by President Tony Tan, Emeritus Minister Goh Chok Tong and former ministers, community leaders as well as Lee's youngest son Lee Hsien Yang.
They paid rich tributes to the leader who transformed Singapore from a third world country to an economic powerhouse. Recalling how his father had spent long-hours working for Singapore over the years, Prime Minister Lee said, "We have all lost a father. We have grieved as one people, one nation."
"The grief we shared for Lee Kuan Yew brought us all closer together, made us stronger," he said.
"Mr Lee's principles and ideals continue to invigorate this Government, guide our people," the Premier said, adding that the leader's life will inspire Singaporeans and others for generations to come.
Highlighting the senior Lee's numerous initiatives for the well-being of Singaporeans, including water conservation in the city-sate without much resources, the Prime Minister said, "It is perhaps appropriate that today the heavens opened and cried for Lee Kuan Yew.
"As a nation, we mourn a man who made a difference," he said. President Tan pointed out that Lee's ideals were clear, he believed in and lived for these -- "meritocracy, honesty and integrity". He worked his whole life to build a united people who respect and care for fellow citizens, Tan said.