PM Lee joins world leaders in expressing sorrow

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday that he was deeply saddened to see France's Notre-Dame cathedral engulfed in flames, as world leaders expressed their sorrow over a massive fire that gutted the roof of the Paris landmark.

"Deeply saddened to see the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris engulfed in flames. It is particularly poignant that this happened during Holy Week," he wrote on Facebook.

"I share the sense of loss of the French people over the damage to their national monument and the treasures it contained," he said.

"The Notre-Dame has stood witness to events in Paris and Europe for more than 850 years. It is part of the heritage of mankind, an expression of the religious faith and human spirit of generations of people who conceived it, built it and worshipped in it. I hope, in time, a rebuilt Notre-Dame will fill the Paris skyline," he added.

PM Lee was joined in his condolences by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called the cathedral a "symbol of France and our European culture", while British Prime Minister Theresa May said her thoughts were with the French people and emergency services fighting the "terrible blaze" before it was extinguished.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth sent a message to French President Emmanuel Macron to say she was deeply saddened by the fire, while Prince Charles said he, too, was "utterly heartbroken" to learn of the fire. United States President Donald Trump was quick to tweet as the disaster was unfolding: "So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!"

Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country was "deeply saddened" by the fire, calling the building an "outstanding treasure of human civilisation" and expressing confidence that France would be able to rebuild the cathedral and restore it to its full glory.

Japan's top government spokes-man Yoshihide Suga said: "It was a loss for the world, and we feel deeply sad."

Pope Francis said he hoped everyone would pull together to rebuild the devastated cathedral.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg: "Europe has been wounded. France has been wounded. Paris has been wounded."

The Venice Opera House noted that it was hit by fire in 1836 and 1996, "but twice we rose stronger from the ashes".

Not everyone was sympathetic. A leader of Germany's far-right AfD party tried to link the devastating fire to rising "intolerance" against Christians in Europe.

Meanwhile, two Serbian tabloids said on Monday that the fire was "God's punishment", linking it to a tweet saying that a Kosovo flag was displayed in the Paris cathedral for the World War I centennial commemorations last year.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2019, with the headline 'PM Lee joins world leaders in expressing sorrow'. Print Edition | Subscribe