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Emotional scenes as Singapore pays tribute to Lee Kuan Yew

By AFP - Mar 25,2015 - Last updated at Mar 25,2015

Singapore — Singaporeans 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 taken 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. It will lie in state there 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.

The government led by his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, apparently taken by surprise at the heavy early turnout, announced that Parliament House would stay open for 24 hours a day until Saturday night "due to overwhelming response from members of the public".

Lee will be cremated on Sunday after a state funeral expected to be attended by several Asia-Pacific leaders even though he was just an MP when he died.

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, the carriage stopped in front of the main Istana 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".

After the motorcade emerged from the government complex, many in the crowd waiting behind barricades 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, while office workers watched from the windows of high-rise buildings.

Long queues for 'LKY'

 

President Tony Tan and his wife Mary were the first to pay their respects, bowing three times before Lee's closed coffin in the parliament's foyer.

By mid-afternoon Singaporeans were waiting for up to eight hours in queues that snaked around the central business district, many using umbrellas against the 33OC heat.

In true Singaporean fashion the crowds were orderly, with free drinking water and portable toilets set up for mourners.

Police commandos helped direct traffic flow and priority queues were created for the elderly, pregnant women and disabled.

People from all walks of life turned up to honour the authoritarian former leader popularly known by his initials "LKY".

"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.

Lee was criticised, however, for ruling the city-state with an iron fist, jailing dissidents and forcing political opponents into bankruptcy and self-exile with costly libel suits.

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