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May 27, 2008

Lees in court showdown, face cross-examination

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took the stand in court on Monday to be cross-examined by opposition leaders, in a case to determine defamation damages against an opposition party, Reuters reported.

Lee and his father, former premier Lee Kuan Yew, are expected to ask for aggravated damages against the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), its leader Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin, for articles in the party's newspaper in 2006 that were found to be defamatory.

The SDP's lawyer M. Ravi said this would be the first time the Lees will be cross-examined by political opponents in court.

"The lawsuit was brought to clear my name and establish the facts," Lee Hsien Loong told Ravi in court. "This case is not about money, this case is about establishing the facts and putting a stop to poisonous lies," Lee said, when asked why he was sueing two bankrupt people.

Chee Siok Chin was declared bankrupt last year for failing to pay legal costs in a lawsuit involving a protest. Chee Soon Juan was also declared bankrupt last February after failing to make libel payments of S$500,000 to Lee Kuan Yew and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

Lee Kuan Yew, 84, is credited with policies that have been critical to making Singapore one of the region's most prosperous countries, but has been criticised by human rights groups for his use of lawsuits against political opponents and the media.

"Would you agree that your family controls Singapore?" Ravi asked Lee Hsien Loong, to gasps from a packed audience in Singapore's Supreme Court. Lee's lawyer objected to the question and the objection was upheld.

Singapore's political landscape has been dominated by one party - the People's Action Party - since its independence in 1965. Its past two prime ministers still retain loosely defined cabinet posts, namely "minister mentor" and "senior minister".

The lawsuit could see the winding up of the 28-year-old opposition SDP party if the defendants are not able to pay the damages, said Gandhi Ambalam, a senior SDP member. The hearing is expected to last three days.

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