March 25, 2015 / 4:43 AM / 3 years ago

Thousands of Singaporeans take to the streets to mourn Lee Kuan Yew

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Thousands of Singaporeans queued on Wednesday to pay their last respects to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who lay in state at Parliament House, waiting for up to eight hours in stifling tropical heat to view his body.

A vigil guard stands by the coffin of the first prime minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew at the Parliament House where he will lie in state until Saturday, in Singapore March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Lee’s coffin was taken by gun carriage to Parliament House on Wednesday morning. Lee, modern Singapore’s founding father, died on Monday, aged 91.

His casket, wrapped in the Singaporean flag, was brought from the Istana palace, where the Singapore prime minister’s office is located and the Lee family held a private wake for the last two days. A bagpiper played “Auld Lang Syne” as the procession set off.

Chants of “Lee Kuan Yew” rang out among the crowd as the carriage entered the colonnaded Parliament House in the heart of the city-state’s business district. The funeral is on Sunday.

In a sight rarely seen in Singapore - where public gatherings are tightly controlled - thousands of people stood in lines stretching over a few kilometers from Parliament House, over the river, across the financial district, into Chinatown.

Due to the overwhelming response by mourners, the government extended viewings to around the clock on Saturday evening. The city’s subway system will operate 24 hours.

Lee, Singapore’s first prime minister, is credited with transforming the city-state from a British colonial outpost into one of the world’s wealthiest nations on a per capita basis with a strong, pervasive role for the state and little patience for dissent.

“Many people found he was a bit stern. But in order to lead, you have to be a little stern,” said Mariam Mohammed, 52, who was queued outside Parliament House with her family.

“This is the last opportunity,” she said. “I would love to have met him in person to thank him personally. But I hope he knows we are grateful for what he has done.”

PM GREETS MOURNERS

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son, was shown on television chatting with people in the queue. Some came prepared with umbrellas, paper fans and folding chairs.

A florist at the closest subway stop offered free flowers to people on their way to the viewing and a luxury hotel distributed iced water to mourners.

Coaches ferried students and their teachers to Parliament House, and many employers, including multinational companies, allowed staff to take time off to pay their respects.

Earlier on Monday, a square in the central business district came to a standstill when hundreds of people came out of their offices to watch live television coverage of the procession on a giant screen, which normally blasts loud commercials.

”Without LKY, we wouldn’t be here,“ said Darius Ang, 29, a finance professional. ”We vented our unhappiness in the last elections but with his death, people have started to realize and understand his contribution.

“Actually, he wouldn’t even want us to be here watching this during office hours.”

Singapore, renowned for its efficiency, has designated 18 sites around the tiny island where people can come together to remember Lee Kuan Yew.

Speakers’ Corner in the center of the city, the only place in Singapore where one can hold a protest without obtaining a permit from the government, has been closed to such activities as it sits in a park that has been assigned as one of the places where people can pay tribute to the former leader.

Additional reporting by Rachel Armstrong, Anshuman Daga, Chyen Yee Lee and Rou Urn Lee; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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