Singapore marks 50 years since independence

Media caption,
Many thousands of people watched the celebrations, as Sharanjit Leyl reports

Singapore has held nationwide events to mark 50 years since it became an independent state.

Tens of thousands of people attended an outdoor parade, watching on as fighter jets whizzed through the sky and a huge convoy rumbled past.

The event culminated with spectators reciting the national pledge and singing the national anthem.

Singapore became independent when it was ejected from the Federation of Malaysia amid social unrest.

In 50 years, the former British colony has transformed itself into one of the world's wealthiest countries.

But its critics say the rapid development has been accompanied by a strict control on free speech and politics.

Singapore at 50

Image source, Reuters

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The city state celebrates its independence day in style every year, but this year's SG50 events were billed as the country's biggest ever celebration, with months of build-up in shops, schools, work places and in the media.

One student, Yang Jie Ling, told Reuters news agency: "It's only 50 years for a small nation like us, so we have achieved so much. It's a year that Singaporeans will want to remember forever."

Singapore declared a four-day weekend for the anniversary.

There were long queues at the crossing points into Malaysia on Thursday and Friday evenings, as thousands of Singaporeans chose to go away for the weekend.

But some 26,000 people packed the Padang in central Singapore, which has been the main venue for independence day celebrations since the first one back in 1966.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The Air Force formed the shape of a 50 to mark the event
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The mobile column from the Singapore Armed Forces also featured

The parade this year included a special tribute to Lee Kuan Yew, who led Singapore into independence and was its prime minister until 1990.

The much-respected leader died in March this year, prompting public mourning. Some attendees were seen weeping during tributes to him at the anniversary ceremony.

A recording of him reading the Proclamation of Independence was played on radio and TV at 09:00 local time (01:00 GMT).

Speaking on the eve of the celebrations, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew's son, said: "At 50 years, as we stand at a high base camp, we look back and marvel how far we have come. We are grateful to those who made it happen."

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The streets were awash with red and white, Singapore's national colours
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Singapore has seen rapid economic growth but accompanied by tight political controls

Despite achieving such goals as 90% home ownership and per capita GDP above $56,000 (£36,000), critics continue to point to the strict political controls.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has been in power for more than 50 years and the opposition hopes to make more inroads in elections that could be called in September.

The last election saw the PAP suffer its worst performance, though it still kept 80 of the 87 seats.

It will hope the boost of the anniversary and recognition of the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew will help it at the next election.

Image caption,
Festivities include free outdoor games such as this circular ping-pong table

At the scene: Tessa Wong, BBC News, Singapore

Singapore's city centre is a sea of red and white as hundreds of thousands wearing the national colours converged to take part in day-long festivities, from free concerts and military jet flypasts to a huge parade.

"It hasn't been an easy journey. Given all that we've achieved, it really calls for a celebration," said civil servant Joan Yeap, who like many others is picnicking with her family by Marina Bay to see a huge firework display.

As far as origin stories go, Singapore's independence is hardly a triumphant one - with an unceremonious ejection from Malaysia - and Sunday's jubilee festivities have all been about celebrating its improbable journey to success.

Upbeat patriotic songs about Singapore's achievements played on national television and radio. And in the evening the entire nation was invited to sing the national anthem and recite the country's pledge.

Image source, National Archives of Singapore
Image caption,
In 1974 when Singapore experienced high inflation, the ruling People's Action Party created a float promoting efficiency and diligence

In its early years, organisers used it to push social messages such as courtesy and diligence.

These days it's a more sophisticated, glitzier affair, held by the shiny skyscrapers of Marina Bay.

Though the propaganda still gets heavy, Singaporeans love it anyway for its pomp and splendour. Tickets for the parade and its rehearsals run out every year.

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