SG 50 7.55 PM

Friends from afar

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanking participants for a job well done at the end of the National Day Parade. Earlier, crowds in the stands (above) waved banners and flags as artists belted out national songs.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanking participants for a job well done at the end of the National Day Parade. Earlier, crowds in the stands (above) waved banners and flags as artists belted out national songs.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanking participants for a job well done at the end of the National Day Parade. Earlier, crowds in the stands waved banners and flags as artists belted out national songs.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanking participants for a job well done at the end of the National Day Parade. Earlier, crowds in the stands waved banners and flags as artists belted out national songs.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam, on the Presidential Ceremonial Vehicle, waving to spectators as the vehicle made its way around the arena. A beaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (above) waving to the crowd before taking his seat with members of the Ca
President Tony Tan Keng Yam, on the Presidential Ceremonial Vehicle, waving to spectators as the vehicle made its way around the arena. A beaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (above) waving to the crowd before taking his seat with members of the Cabinet.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam (above), on the Presidential Ceremonial Vehicle, waving to spectators as the vehicle made its way around the arena. A beaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong  waving to the crowd before taking his seat with members of the C
President Tony Tan Keng Yam (above), on the Presidential Ceremonial Vehicle, waving to spectators as the vehicle made its way around the arena. A beaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong waving to the crowd before taking his seat with members of the Cabinet.

Dignitaries came from neighbouring Malaysia, and as far away as Russia and Britain. One was even born on Aug 9

They came from distant lands, some from sprawling nations anchored by centuries of history and sovereignty, to a little speck on the map celebrating its fifth decade of independence.

Foreign dignitaries from 18 countries - from nearby Malaysia to far-flung Russia - sat in the grandstands at the Padang yesterday as the nation marked its Golden Jubilee. This is the first time since 1969 that foreign leaders are attending the National Day Parade (NDP).

They sat with local leaders, including President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and ministers and MPs who turned up in force.

The dignitaries included Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key.

Others included Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who is here as the representative of Queen Elizabeth II.

Parade People

We try to get tickets every year but have been unsuccessful so far. But it's SG50, and it's the first time we came down in person to catch the parade.

BUSINESSMAN OLI MOHAMED, 40, with his younger son Harun, nine, perched on his shoulders, outside Suntec City, as the guard of honour is about to march off. Mr Oli was with his wife and three children.

Dr Tan hosted the foreign guests to lunch at the Istana yesterday, where he thanked them for their steadfast support and friendship through the decades.

"A Golden Jubilee is a significant milestone, particularly for a young nation like ours," he said.

"We are delighted to celebrate it with our friends who have made important contributions to our development."

He also made special mention of the countries which established diplomatic ties with Singapore in 1965 - Australia, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand and Britain, and of Mr Key, who was born on Aug 9, 1961.

Dr Tan arrived at about 6.45pm yesterday, pulling up to the Padang in his Presidential motorcade to cheers from the spectators.

MPs said they had been looking forward to the NDP - Singapore's biggest yet - which did not disappoint. The tribute to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died some months short of Singapore's 50th, stood out for them.

Many also praised the military parade and precision on show.

Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Second Minister for Home and Foreign Affairs, said he has loved watching the contingents and armoured vehicles on parade since he was a young boy.

The mobile column was also a favourite item with Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng.

He said: "This shows our resolute determination to defend Singapore and what we have built up over 50 years."

For Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, a former Chief of Navy, this NDP brought back memories of the past parades he took part in.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong found the parade both emotional and exhilarating. "The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's absence was keenly felt, but it also reminded us that much of what we have today is because of him and our pioneers.

"I particularly liked the mobile column, which included some veterans," he said.

"Our founding leaders and pioneers brought us together as one people. Our destiny is a stronger Singapore from here."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2015, with the headline 'Friends from afar'. Print Edition | Subscribe