TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan laid to rest on Wednesday former President Lee Teng-hui, dubbed “Mr. Democracy” for burying autocratic rule in favour of freewheeling pluralism and defying China’s drive to absorb an island it regards as a wayward province.
President Tsai Ing-wen attended Lee’s state funeral held at a military cemetery in the mountains outside of capital Taipei. Lee, who died in July aged 97, was president from 1988 to 2000.
A memorial service for Lee was held last month in the shadow of renewed Chinese war games, as did his election as Taiwan’s first democratic leader in 1996.
Lee’s greatest act of defiance was becoming Taiwan’s first democratically elected president in March 1996, achieved in a landslide following eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by China in waters around the island.
Those events brought China and Taiwan to the verge of conflict, prompting the United States to send an aircraft carrier task force to the area in a warning to the Beijing government.
Lee, a devout Christian, had said at a 2012 election rally that he hoped for Taiwan to be “a country of democracy, freedom, human rights and dignity, where one does not have to be ruled by others and where everyone can say out loud ‘I’m Taiwanese’.”
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Himani Sarkar)