Lee Kuan Yew, 91, the founder of modern Singapore who helped transform the sleepy port into one of the world's richest nations, died Monday, the government said. The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement on its website that he "passed away peacefully" after being hospitalized for pneumonia.

The country's first and longest-serving prime minister, Mr. Lee guided Singapore through a traumatic split with Malaysia in 1965 and helped transform what was then a sleepy port city into a global trade and finance center. Although he could have remained in office for much longer, he stepped aside and handed over leadership of the ruling party, and the country, to a younger generation in 1990. Still, he remained an influential behind-the-scenes figure for many more years until his health deteriorated.

He was feared for his authoritarian tactics but insisted that strict limits on speech and public protest were necessary to maintain stability in the multiethnic and multireligious country. He jailed some political rivals without trial for decades and brought defamation lawsuits against journalists and opposition politicians.

But he commanded immense respect among Singaporeans, who this year will celebrate the country's 50th independence anniversary. His legacy includes an efficient government with little corruption, low tax rates to attract foreign investment, excellent schools, and safe streets. - AP