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Tributes from Chiam, Mahathir
TWO men who had crossed swords numerous times with Lee Kuan Yew paid their last respects to Singapore's first prime minister on Friday.
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad expressed his sadness at Mr Lee's passing, while opposition stalwart Chiam See Tong turned up at Parliament House - where Mr Lee's body lies in state - to bid a final farewell.
Writing in his personal blog, Dr Mahathir admitted that he was not a close friend of Mr Lee's, but he was still sad when he first heard the news of his death on Monday.
"No matter how friendly or unfriendly we are, the passing of a man you know well saddens you," said Dr Mahathir, who is two years Mr Lee's junior.
There was "no enmity" between the pair, he wrote, only differences in opinions when it came to determining what was best for Singapore in the 1960s as a newborn nation.
Dr Mahathir recalled how he first met Mr Lee in 1964, when the former was a Member of Parliament, after Singapore had merged with Malaysia just a year earlier.
"(Mr Lee) included me among the ultra Malays who were responsible for the racial riots in Singapore. Actually, I never went to Singapore to stir up trouble. Somebody else whom I would not name did," said Dr Mahathir.
He shared how he paid a courtesy call on Mr Lee after he became Malaysia's leader in 1981, and they agreed that both countries should advance their timezones by 30 minutes.
This, he added, was a rare occasion when the two of them agreed on something. "I am afraid on most other issues, we could not agree," Dr Mahathir wrote.
While the two leaders hardly saw eye-to-eye back in the day, Dr Mahathir shared how they were concerned for each other's well-being.
"When I had a heart attack in 1989 and required open heart surgery, he cared enough to ring up my wife to ask her to delay the operation as he had arranged for the best heart surgeon, a Singaporean living in Australia, to do the operation," he said.
"But by then, I had been given pre-med and was asleep prior to the operation the next day. My wife thanked him but apologised. She promised to ring him up after the operation. She did the next evening."
When Mr Lee was very ill at one time, Dr Mahathir requested to see him. The day before the visit, however, the meeting was called off as Mr Lee was too sick to receive guests.
They did meet up later, in Tokyo, where both were attending a conference. Dr Mahathir approached Mr Lee during dinner to ask about his health.
"We sat down together to chat and the Japanese photographers took our pictures, promising not to put it in the press. I wouldn't mind even if they did, but I suppose people will make all kinds of stories about it," he said.
Dr Mahathir described Mr Lee's passing as marking "the end of the period when those who fought for independence lead their countries and knew the value of independence".
"Asean lost a strong leadership after President Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew," he added.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people filed into Parliament House on Friday, some braving queues of up to 10 hours for the chance to pay homage to Mr Lee.
Mr Chiam, the secretary-general of the opposition Singapore People's Party, arrived in a wheelchair but later stood up to walk towards Mr Lee's casket with some help from his wife and Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
A teary Mr Chiam, 80, said that Singapore "is very lucky" to have Mr Lee as its first prime minister.
"The first time I met him, he was very stern and said, 'Who is this oppositionist?' I don't think he knew me at that time. And he said, 'Mr Chiam, see you in Parliament.' The way he said it was as if he had said, 'I'll see you in the boxing ring," said Mr Chiam.
"I also know Mr Lee was a great debater. In Parliament, he clobbered me. But when I came to Parliament, I never lost my dignity or decorum."
Other dignitaries who turned up during the day included Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo, former Indonesian presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Megawati Sukarnoputri and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
Mr Lee's body will continue to lie in state until 8pm on Saturday. The state funeral service will take place on Sunday at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Centre, followed by a private cremation.