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Singapore Mourns Founding Leader Lee Kuan Yew

A woman lights candles in memory of Lee Kuan Yew at a community center in Singapore. Lee, Singapore's first premier, died Monday at the age of 91.

Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore who transformed the sleepy British colony into a commercial powerhouse, is being mourned today in his country and beyond.

As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reported on Morning Edition, "During more than a half-century as Singapore's leader, he helped turn the city-state from a sleepy British colony into an affluent and efficient trading enclave, which enjoys the world's third-highest per capita GDP. But he was also criticized for running a one-party, authoritarian regime under which critics were muzzled and political rivals hounded."

Singapore began seven days of national mourning following Lee's death today at the age of 91. Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said he was "grieved beyond words" at news of Lee's death.

In a statement, President Obama called Lee "a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one the great strategists of Asian affairs." British Prime Minister David Cameron said Lee's "place in history is assured." And The Economist, while noting the authoritarian nature of Singapore's government, said: "If you seek his monument: look around Singapore. Prosperous, orderly, clean, efficient and honestly governed."

Chinese President Xi Jinping called Lee's death " a loss to the people of Singapore, and to the international community," according to the official Xinhua news agency. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Lee was "one of the greatest leaders of modern times that Asia has ever produced," while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to Lee "a lion among leaders."

The homepage of the Straits Times, Singapore's major English-language newspaper, was devoted almost entirely to the late leader, and a tributes page included hundreds of messages from Singapore and around the region.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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