Singapore overwhelmed by huge crowds mourning Lee
SINGAPORE – Agence France-Presse
Mourners pay their respects to Singapore's late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew where he lies in state at Parliament House in Singapore on March 27, 2015. AFP PhotoTens of thousands of Singaporeans braved waits of up to 10 hours outside parliament March 27 to pay their last respects to founding leader Lee Kuan Yew despite appeals from overwhelmed officials to honour him elsewhere.
The city-state, famous for its clockwork handling of major events like the night-time Singapore Grand Prix, seemed unprepared for the scale of the outpouring of grief since the 91-year-old patriarch's death on Monday.
"Members of the public are strongly advised not to join the queue at the Padang now," said a government advisory which urged mourners to go instead to 18 community sites to pay homage to Lee.
The round-the-clock queue outside parliament starts at the Padang -- a large grassy field used for parades and concerts as well as football, cricket and other sports.
The notice said mourners who arrived at 10:00 am (0200 GMT) could expect to wait up to 10 hours for a chance to file past the former leader's brown wooden casket draped in the red-and-white Singapore flag.
More than 250,000 mourners had paid their respects by mid-afternoon Friday, according to an official count, up from about 150,000 at midnight Thursday.
"I am deeply moved by the overwhelming response of people wanting to visit my father's Lying in State at Parliament House," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Facebook.
He announced that a live video feed of the flow of mourners viewing the casket inside the parliament's lobby had been put up on Youtube.
Lee has been lying in state since Wednesday and the public has until 8:00 pm on Saturday to pay their respects.
"The government can advise us not to queue all they want, and I understand this puts a strain on resources like volunteers and space, but that's not going to stop us from coming down," mourner Pek Tee Ann, 51, told AFP.
The turnout is massive by Singapore standards but the crowd was disciplined and morale appeared to be high.
"I feel the Singapore spirit around me, people are courteous and everyone is here for a common purpose, to honour our leader," said 17-year-old student Shruti Ram.
The city-state has a population of 5.5 million but only 3.34 million are citizens. The rest are guest workers, expatriates and their families.
At busy times, mourners can only spend a few seconds in front of the remains, many bowing quickly before being ushered to the exit.
Tents have been set up to shield mourners from the scorching tropical sun while volunteers hand out bottled water and sugared drinks, with portable toilets available on the fringes.
An express lane is reserved for the elderly, disabled and pregnant while foreign dignitaries enter via a VIP entrance.
Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan, chairman of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), told activists late Thursday that the outpouring of emotion had "exceeded our expectations," the Straits Times reported.
"We are afraid we will not be able to fulfil the wishes of Singaporeans. But we will do our best," he said.
Lee, who is credited with transforming the former British colonial outpost into a financial powerhouse and one of Asia's wealthiest societies, is to be given full state honours before being cremated Sunday.