Singapore's first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, has died at the age of 91.

Confirming the news the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) issued a statement saying:"The Prime Minister is deeply grieved to announce the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore.

"Mr Lee passed away peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital today at 3.18am. He was 91."

The announcement came "with deep sorrow" by the press secretary of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee's son.

The arrangements for the funeral proceedings and opportunities for the public to pay their respects will be announced later, added the PMO.

Lee, born in 1923, assembled the People's Action Party (PAP) and became Singapore's first Prime Minister in 1959.

The Cambridge-educated lawyer led the country into Independence in 1965 following the merger and then separation from Malaysia.

Speaking of the separation, Lee told the New York Times in 2007: "We knew that if we were just like our neighbours, we would die. Because we've got nothing to offer against what they have to offer. So we had to produce something which is different and better than what they have."

Lee was often criticized for his iron grip on power and restrictions on freedom of speech.

"Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up," Lee told a rally in 1980. "I've spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I'm in charge, nobody is going to knock it down."

Lee had been in hospital on life support for several weeks due to severe pneumonia.

Lee Kuan Yew
Kuan Yew Lee visiting a housing project. Getty Images