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Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founder and first prime minister, dies at 91

Lee, who ruled Singapore from 1959 to 1990, is credited with developing the city-state into a wealthy, international business hub.

By
Fred Lambert
Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in the Oval Office on Oct. 29, 2009. Lee, who served as prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, died on March 22, 2015 at the age of 91. He is widely credited with fostering Singapore's economy into the powerhouse it is today. File photo by Chip Somodevilla/UPI
Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in the Oval Office on Oct. 29, 2009. Lee, who served as prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, died on March 22, 2015 at the age of 91. He is widely credited with fostering Singapore's economy into the powerhouse it is today. File photo by Chip Somodevilla/UPI | License Photo

SINGAPORE, March 22 (UPI) -- Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's revered founder and first prime minister, died Monday morning at 91 years of age.

Lee, who ruled the republic from 1959 to 1990, is seen as the founding father of Singapore, transforming the remote island port into a global financial and business center.

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Lee died in Singapore General Hospital early Monday, local time, after weeks of complications with pneumonia. The prime minister's office released a statement saying it was "deeply grieved" at Lee's passing.

Co-founder of the People's Action Party, Lee was a Cambridge-educated lawyer who oversaw the development of Singapore after it gained autonomy from Britain in 1959 and following its merger and subsequent split with Malaysia in 1965.

In order to counter the city-state's lack of natural resources, Lee advocated a well-educated English-speaking workforce and introduced incentives to attract outside interests, specifically from the United States, turning the republic into a center for manufacturing and foreign investment.

The Central Intelligence Agency describes modern Singapore as a "highly developed and successful free-market economy" that "enjoys a remarkably open and corruption-free environment, stable prices, and a per capita GDP higher than that of most developed countries."

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Singapore is "ideology-free," with a "very keen sense of what is possible, and what is not," Lee told The New York Times in a 2007 interview.

"If we are not connected to this modern world, we are dead," he said at the time. "We'll go back to the fishing village we once were."

Lee faced criticism, however, on what some saw as repressive control over freedom of the press, the targeting of political opponents in state courts, and frivolous laws, such as a ban on chewing gum and the state-controlled matchmaking of intelligent Singaporeans in order to produce smarter babies.

Lee said in 2007 that the laws were designed to change the habits of Singaporeans "so that they behaved more like first-world citizens, not like third-world citizens spitting and littering all over the place."

At a rally in 1980 Lee said whoever governs Singapore must have either have "iron in him" or "give it up."

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