Craig Skehan, March 28, 2007 - 1:50PM
Sydney Morning Herald
Protesters and a fiery exchange with reporters marred a ceremony honouring Singapore's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, at the Australian University in Canberra today.
The university stirred up controversy by bestowing an honorary law doctorate on Mr Lee, who governed the tiny city state for decades with an iron hand, delivering prosperity but restricting civil liberities.
Mr Lee led Singapore to independence and served as its first prime minister, being regularly re-elected until 1990.
About 150 protesters chanted anti-Lee slogans and waved placards that described him as a "dictator''.
During the cermony inside ANU's University House, Mr Lee was praised for bringing financial success and stability to Singapore.
However, many seats in the auditorium were vacant because of a boycott by some university staff.
Wearing an academic cap and red gown, Mr Lee, 83, delivered a speech in which he declared that Australia and Singapore shared a common strategic outlook.
Later, Mr Lee had a hostile encounter with waiting reporters.
"If I allowed you to run my country, we would spiral down to rock bottom,'' a defiant Mr Lee told the journalists.
Many years ago Mr Lee once warned Australians that they were risk of becoming "white trash'' in Asia.
Questioned about this today he said he had made the comment at different time in Australia's history.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer this week acknowledged there had been international concern about human rights issues in Singapore but he praised Mr Lee as a "great regional leader".
"The fact is in the overall sense, Singapore has been a spectacular success," Mr Downer said.