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Singapore mourns founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew

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A MAN who inspired Singapore, provided courage, kept the people together and brought the country to where it is today.

That was how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described his late father, Lee Kuan Yew, during an emotional live address to the nation on Monday morning, as tributes poured in from Singaporeans and world leaders.

"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," said PM Lee at the Istana.

The elder Mr Lee, 91, died peacefully at 3.18am on Monday at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). Singapore's founding prime minister had been warded since Feb 5 due to severe pneumonia.

"To many Singaporeans, and indeed others too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore. As prime minister, 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," PM Lee added.

Speaking first in Malay, Mandarin and finally in English, he said that he was "grieved beyond words" at the passing of his father.

I know that we all feel the same way. But even as we mourn his passing, let us also honour his spirit. 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," said PM Lee.

News of the elder Mr Lee's ill-health first broke on Feb 21 when the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) announced that he was in intensive care because of severe pneumonia.

He has been warded at the SGH's intensive care unit since Feb 5. A second statement released on Feb 26 said Mr Lee remained sedated and was continuing to use a mechanical ventilator to help him breathe.

Two days later, the PMO shared that Mr Lee's condition had "improved slightly" and was continuing with his antibiotics.

There were no major updates on the elder statesman, a member of parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC, until Mar 17 when it was revealed that an infection had caused his condition to worsen.

In the days that followed, the PMO said that Mr Lee was still critically in the ICU and that his condition had deteriorated further.

Mr Lee became Singapore's founding prime minister in June 1959 when he was 35 years old. He served as the country's leader for 31 years until he stepped down in November 1990.

When Goh Chok Tong became the new prime minister that month, Mr Lee was appointed senior minister in the Cabinet, a post he held for 14 years until 2004.

That year, his eldest son, PM Lee, became Singapore's third prime minister, and the elder Mr Lee remained in Cabinet with the new title of minister mentor. He retired from the Cabinet a week after the last general election in May 2011.

The nonagenarian, a lawyer by training, 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 ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) 60th anniversary.

That day, Mr Lee, the PAP's co-founder and its first secretary-general who served for 38 years, was given a minute-long standing ovation by hundreds of party members as they paid tribute to his many achievements and contributions.

Mr Lee also graced his constituency's annual tree-planting day earlier that same month, maintaining his 51-year streak of planting a tree in Singapore every year since he started doing so in 1963.

Mr Lee was an MP for Tanjong Pagar for the past 60 years, a post he held since April 1955. At the last GE four years ago, Mr Lee and his four GRC teammates won their parliamentary seats via a walkover.

Mr Lee leaves behind two sons and a daughter - PM Lee, 63; Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore chairman Lee Hsien Yang, 57; and National Neuroscience Institute director Lee Wei Ling, 60 - as well as his daughters-in-law Ho Ching, 61, and Lee Suet-Fern, 56, seven grandchildren and two siblings.

Mr Lee's wife of 60 years, Kwa Geok Choo, passed away in October 2010 after a long illness at the age of 89.

PM Lee has declared a period of National Mourning for Mr Lee from Monday, March 23, to Sunday, March 29.

As a mark of respect, the State flags on all government buildings will be flown at half-mast from Monday till Sunday, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

A private family wake will be held on Monday and Tuesday at Sri Temasek.

Mr Lee's body will then lie in state at Parliament House from Wednesday to Saturday, for the public to pay their respects from 10am to 8pm on those days.

A State Funeral Service will be held at 2pm on March 29, Sunday, at the University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore. The funeral service will be attended by the late Mr Lee's family, friends and staff, the President, Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Old Guards, senior civil servants, grassroots leaders and Singaporeans from all walks of life. The funeral service will be followed by a private cremation at Mandai Crematorium.

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