Singapore turns 50

  • 10/08/2015
Fireworks explode during Singapore's Golden Jubilee celebrations near the central business district (Reuters)
Fireworks explode during Singapore's Golden Jubilee celebrations near the central business district (Reuters)

By Bhavan Jaipragas

Singapore has celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence with fireworks, a massive military parade and a tribute to late founding leader Lee Kuan Yew.

The authoritarian ruler, who died in March aged 91, was honoured with a video on his life and times at the beginning of the annual National Day Parade.

The crowd - decked in the red and white Singapore colours and many in tears - greeted the tribute with a robust round of applause.

The festivities that followed featured about 2,000 marchers, 50 military aircraft, 177 tanks and other security hardware, underscoring the Singapore military's status as the best armed in the region.

One of the highlights was a fly-past by a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 superjumbo adorned with the republic's red and white flag.

The crowd also cheered when 20 F-16 fighter jets formed the number "50" as they roared overhead. Minutes later, helicopters including Apache attack choppers flew by.

The procession was the high point of a jubilee year largely choreographed and funded by the government, which is expected to call a general election soon to extend its rule against a divided opposition.

Singapore became a republic on August 9, 1965, when it was ejected from the Malay federation following a stormy two-year union.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP), which Lee co-founded and which has ruled uninterrupted since independence, has been criticised for silencing free speech and detaining political opponents.

But politics was put aside on Sunday when national TV and radio stations broadcast a 2012 recording of Lee Kuan Yew reading the original declaration of independence.

On the eve of the parade his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said in a televised message that "at 50 years, as we stand at a high base camp, we look back and marvel at how how far we have come".

The premier was joined at the parade by leaders and top officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations along with officials from China, Australia and Japan.

Former colonial ruler Britain was represented by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Prince Andrew, while the United States has sent former trade representative Ron Kirk.

Lee Kuan Yew's death on March 23 triggered an unprecedented outpouring of grief. A bouquet was placed on his customary seat at the parade.