Emotional scenes as Singapore pays tribute to Lee Kuan Yew
SINGAPORE – Agence France-Presse
The body (C in the coffin) of Singapore's former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew lies in state at Parliament House for public viewing ahead of his funeral in Singapore on March 25, 2015. AFP PhotoSingaporeans wept on the streets and queued in their thousands Wednesday to pay tribute 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 in a slow motorcade from the Istana government complex, Lee's workplace for decades as prime minister and cabinet adviser, to the legislature, where it will lie in state until the weekend.
The 91-year-old patriarch died Monday 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.
His son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's government, apparently taken by surprise by the heavy early turnout, announced that Parliament House will stay open for 24 hours a day until Saturday night "due to overwhelming response from members of the public."
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 housed in a tempered glass case on 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 where the motorcade 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 for a chance to be among the first to pay their respects to the man popularly known by his initials "LKY".
By the afternoon, Singaporeans were waiting for up to eight hours in queues that snaked around the central business district, many with umbrellas unfurled in the 33-degree Celsius (91-degree Fahrenheit) heat.
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 AFP.
"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."
R. Tamilselvi, 77, brought two of her granddaughters, each clutching flowers.
"Lee Kuan Yew has done so much for us," she said. "We used to live in squatter (colonies) in Sembawang, my husband was a bus driver. Now my three 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.
He was criticised, however, for ruling the city-state with an iron fist and restricting free speech.