Grieving Singaporeans pay respects to Lee Kuan Yew
SINGAPORE (UPDATED) – Singaporeans wept on the streets and gathered in their thousands Wednesday, March 25, to pay their respects to founding leader Lee Kuan Yew as his flag-draped coffin was transported on a gun carriage to parliament for public viewing.
After a two-day private wake for the family, the coffin was taken from the Istana government complex, Lee's workplace for decades as prime minister and cabinet adviser, to the legislature, where the remains will lie in state until the weekend.
The 91-year-old patriarch died Monday, March 23, after half a century in government, during which Singapore was transformed from a poor British colonial outpost into one of the world's richest societies.
Lee will be cremated after full state honors on Sunday, March 29.
His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said there were "overwhelming queues" outside parliament and announced that visiting hours had been extended until midnight to cope with the turnout.
Applause and shouts of "We love you!" and "Lee Kuan Yew!" broke out as the dark brown wooden coffin, draped in the red-and-white Singapore flag, emerged from the Istana inside a tempered glass case atop a gun carriage pulled by an open-topped military truck.
Earlier, in scenes that evoked Singapore's colonial past, Lee's coffin stopped in front of the complex's main building, where British administrators once worked, as a bagpiper from Singapore's Gurkha Contingent -- the city-state's special guard force -- played "Auld Lang Syne".
It was brought down tree-lined Edinburgh Road to the Istana's main gate and then made a slow turn in the direction of parliament as a crowd including students in uniform with black arm bands waited behind barricades.
Many along the route were in tears as they raised cameras and mobile phones to record the historic event. Some threw flowers on the path of the carriage.
Office workers watched from the windows of high-rise buildings along the route.
President Tony Tan and his wife Mary were the first to pay their respects after Lee's closed coffin was placed in the foyer of Parliament House.
Local media said Singaporeans began queuing after midnight Tuesday, March 24, for a chance to be among the first to pay their respects to the man popularly known by his initials "LKY".
Even before the lunch break, the line was already snaking for up to two kilometers (1.2 miles) as Singaporeans patiently awaited their turn to enter the viewing hall.
Many unfurled umbrellas to shield themselves from the scorching sun, with temperatures in the humid tropical island hitting around 33ºC (91ºF) at mid-day.
They came from all walks of life, from office workers and bosses to students and the elderly in wheelchairs accompanied by caregivers.
"These are amazing scenes. I have not seen anything like this in my lifetime," bank executive Zhang Wei Jie, 36, told Agence France-Presse.
"LKY is the founder of our country. It is a no-brainer that we have to pay respect. We have taken some time off from work, my supervisor is also here somewhere in the crowd."
Margaret Quek, a 49-year-old housewife, added: "I don't mind waiting until night time."
R. Tamilselvi, 77, brought two of her granddaughters, each clutching flowers.
"Lee Kuan Yew has done so much for us. We used to live in squatter (colonies) in Sembawang, my husband was a bus driver. Now my 3 sons have good jobs and nice houses. The children all go to school. What will we be without Lee Kuan Yew?"
Lee first became an MP in 1955 and served as prime minister from 1959, when Britain granted self-rule, to 1990. He led Singapore to independence in 1965 after a brief and stormy union with Malaysia.
Singapore now has one of the world's highest per capita incomes and its residents enjoy near-universal home ownership, low crime rates and first-class infrastructure. – Bhavan Jaipragas, AFP / Rappler.com