Singapore turns 50, marks day with nationwide celebrations

  • Agencies, Singapore
  • Updated: Aug 09, 2015 11:49 IST

Singapore marked 50 years of its independence on Sunday with nationwide celebrations. These included a huge military parade and firework display that also pays tribute to former founding leader Lee Kuan Yew.

Some 250,000 spectators are expected to take part in the festivities from 6:00 pm (1000 GMT) -- among the largest in the city state's history -- which will include some 2,000 marchers, 50 military aircraft and 177 tanks and other security hardware.

The procession, which will be capped by a fireworks display, is the high point of a jubilee year largely choreographed and funded by the government, which is expected to call for general elections soon to extend its rule against a divided opposition.

F-16 fighter jets from the Republic of Singapore Air Force's aerobatics team, the Black Knights, perform an aerial display over Singapore.(AFP Photo)

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

The celebrations kicked off Sunday morning when sirens blared at 9:00 am (0100 GMT) before national TV and radio stations broadcast a 2012 recording of Lee Kuan Yew rereading the original declaration of independence.

"At 50 years, as we stand at a high base camp, we look back and marvel at how how far we have come," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a televised message.

In this Jan. 5, 1968, file photo, people walk past banks and shops along Raffles Place, which is now the financial district of Singapore. ( AP Photo)

The premier, the son of the elder Lee, will be joined by leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the parade at the historic Padang grounds, facing scenic Marina Bay.

The prime ministers of Malaysia and Thailand, along with Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla are among regional leaders attending, along with officials from China, Australia and Japan.

Former colonial rulers Britain will be represented by foreign secretary Philip Hammond and Prince Andrew, while the United States has sent former trade representative Ron Kirk.

Lee Hsien Loong, who took over as premier in 2004, on Saturday said the festivities will "celebrate how we turned vulnerabilities into strengths" and "journeyed from Third World to First".

In this Jan. 5, 1968, file photo, the main street along Raffles Place which is now Singapore's financial district is seen. (AP Photo)

The parade will also pay tribute to Lee -- widely seen as the founding father of Singapore -- whose death on March 23 triggered an unprecedented national outpouring of grief.

A bouquet of flowers will be placed on his seat, while a five-minute video tribute about his life and political career will be played at the start of the event.

The People's Action Party, which he co-founded, has ruled uninterrupted since independence and is widely credited with turning Singapore into one of the world's richest countries.

Today, Singapore is among the top five most expensive cities in the world.

But it has also been criticised for silencing free speech, including by detaining political opponents or launching punative legal actions against them -- actions which have continued since his death.

An unpopular government policy paper in 2013 predicted that foreigners will make up nearly half of the population of 6.5-6.9 million by 2030 to offset low birth rates and support an aging population.

It triggered a rare protest of more than 2,000 against foreign labor.

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