Lee wants Singapore to ape Las Vegas

AP , SINGAPORE

Tue, Aug 23, 2005 - Page 1

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) urged this tightly controlled city-state to take a cue from freewheeling Las Vegas, as he stuck to economics and largely avoided politics and free speech in his second annual address to the nation.

"It must be a totally different Singapore. Because if it's the same Singapore [as] today, we're dead," Lee said, referring to his country in the future. "We have to remake Singapore -- our economy, our education, our mindsets, our city," he added in his National Day Rally address, an annual policy speech.

At one point in the nearly two-hour speech late on Sunday, the usually unflappable politician's eyes teared up as he tried to rally his citizens, recounting his past participation in independence day parades.

On Aug. 9, Singapore celebrated its 40th year of independence from Malaysia. It had previously been a British colony.

Lee, 53, said that Singapore -- one of Asia's wealthiest countries, which has long relied on its efficiency and clean government to attract foreign investment -- will move to "foster innovation and enterprise."

He said the island republic's citizens must look at Las Vegas for new direction.

"Out of nothing in a desert, they have built a city. Forty million people visit every year," Lee said. "We don't want to become Las Vegas, but we should learn from their spirit."

Lee's administration has approved the building of two casinos in resource-poor Singapore by 2009. Several Nevada casino moguls are bidding for the jobs.

Lee's speech also touched on terrorism, Singapore's service culture and improved relations with China, which were damaged after he visited Taiwan last year.

"Our relations with China are back on track. We are friends with key players who matter to us," said Lee, who visited Taiwan just before assuming leadership of the city-state.

Singapore has been attempting to retool its formerly manufacturing-based economy, focusing more on areas like biomedical sciences and the arts.