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Modern Singapore mourns founding father

Tributes pour in from world leaders and citizens, from which emerged a portrait of a decisive leader who made the nation's survival his life's work

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THE sombre news came four minutes after 4am on Monday, a time when most of the country was still fast asleep.

After battling severe pneumonia for more than six weeks, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew "passed away peacefully" at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) at 3.18 am, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

It didn't take long for the tributes to begin pouring in from Singapore and around the world, including those from political and business leaders, with many lauding the 91-year-old's achievements as they mourned the passing of "a giant in our region".

International news media such as The New York Times, The Economist, Financial Times and the BBC ran obituaries on their websites.

In an emotional address broadcast live from the Istana from 8am, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he was "grieved beyond words at the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew".

He spoke for about seven minutes, first in Malay, then Mandarin and finally in English. PM Lee, clad in a grey shirt and tie, had to pause briefly a couple of times midway to compose himself before continuing.

"The first of our founding fathers is no more. He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together and brought us here," he said. "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."

PM Lee declared a seven-day national mourning period that will run until Sunday, with the state flags on all government buildings to fly at half-mast all week as a mark of respect.

The body of the elder statesman will lie in state at Parliament House from Wednesday until Saturday, so that members of the public who wish to pay their respects may do so.

On Sunday, a procession will bear the coffin from Parliament House to the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Centre, where the state funeral service will be held. Many leaders from the region and beyond are expected to attend.

PM Lee noted that, to many Singaporeans and others as well, " Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore" and that, during his time as the country's first prime minister for 31 years from 1959 to 1990, "he pushed us hard to achieve what had 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."

Various Cabinet ministers took to social media to pay tribute to the nonagenarian, among them Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who wrote that Singapore has "survived as a small nation and earned our place in the world" because of the elder stateman's efforts.

"Singapore will also live on because of him. Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore to last. He led a team, not a one-man show. He groomed new leaders. He built a clean government and a culture of telling it straight - telling people the problems, and finding a way to fix them," said Mr Tharman.

"Most fundamentally, he built a multi-racial nation that has endured - still being deepened, and a rarity internationally."

United States President Barack Obama was one of the first world leaders to send condolences, hailing Mr Lee as a "visionary" and a "devoted public servant and remarkable leader". He said in a statement that Mr Lee's views were "hugely important" in helping him formulate the US 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 of the great strategists of Asian affairs," said Mr Obama, who met Mr Lee twice in 2009, once in Washington and later in Singapore.

The local business community also expressed its gratitude to and respect for Mr Lee, thanking him for his efforts over the years in helping Singapore rise from third world to the first within a generation.

DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta wrote: "Today, Singapore's financial sector has its place on the world map, largely due to the foundations he laid for our industry to flourish - a foundation underpinned by an unequivocal commitment to clean government, sound governance and a pursuit of excellence."

Robert Yap, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, praised Mr Lee for dedicating his life to creating a favourable business environment in Singapore. This, he said, helped attract sustained investments that enabled businesses to prosper and workers to have good jobs and a higher standard of living.

Throughout the day, thousands of people headed to different venues across the island to offer their condolences. There were snaking queues outside the Istana along Orchard Road, where people wrote heartfelt messages on large boards set up outside the main gate.

Just before 1pm, a grey hearse carrying Mr Lee's coffin made its way into the Istana for a two-day private wake that will end on Tuesday evening.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Cabinet ministers and members of parliament, former chief justice Yong Pung How, Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing and Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah were among those who visited Sri Temasek - the official residence of the prime minister at the Istana, where Mr Lee's body now lies - to pay their respects.

People also thronged an open area outside Block 7 of the Singapore General Hospital, where they left bouquets of flowers, messages and hand-made cards, as did scores of others at the Tanjong Pagar Community Club in Cantonment Road.

Mr Lee was an MP in Tanjong Pagar for the last 60 years, a post he had held since April 1955 by winning the legislative assembly elections. At the last general election in May 2011, he and his four team-mates won Tanjong Pagar GRC through a walkover.

The Cambridge-educated lawyer had made only a handful of public appearances over the past year. Last November, he attended an event at the refurbished Victoria Concert Hall to mark the 60th anniversary of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

That day, Mr Lee, the PAP's co-founder and its first secretary-general, was given a minute-long standing ovation by hundreds of party members in tribute to his many achievements and contributions.

Mr Lee also graced his constituency's annual tree-planting day earlier that month, keeping up his annual tradition of planting a tree - a rite that dates back to 1963.

He leaves behind his sons PM Lee, 63, and Lee Hsien Yang, 57, and a daughter Lee Wei Ling, 60, as well as daughters-in-law Ho Ching, 61, and Lee Suet-Fern, 56, seven grandchildren and two siblings.

His wife of 60 years, Kwa Geok Choo, died at the age of 89 in October 2010 after a long illness.

In his address to the nation, PM Lee called on Singaporeans to honour his father's spirit during this time of mourning. "Let us dedicate ourselves as one people to build on his foundations, strive for his ideals, and keep Singapore exceptional and successful for many years to come. May Mr Lee Kuan Yew rest in peace."