SINGAPORE: More than 330,000 people, equivalent to 10 percent of Singapore’s citizen population, have visited parliament to pay their respects to the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew ahead of his cremation, officials said Saturday.
The surge of mourners for the founding leader has been so great that the government had to temporarily suspend access by new mourners to parliament late Friday for the sake of crowd safety.
At peak periods, mourners have been able to spend just a few seconds in front of Lee’s closed brown casket draped in the red-and-white Singapore flag, many bowing quickly before being ushered to the exit.
The queue was reopened before dawn Saturday after the backlog was cleared.
Lee’s body has been lying in state in parliament’s main lobby since Wednesday after he died on Monday at the age of 91.
He is to be cremated in a private ceremony on Sunday after a state funeral to be attended by Asia-Pacific leaders and world dignitaries.
By mid-afternoon Saturday, the wait for mourners before they could view Lee’s casket had fallen to four hours from a peak of 10 hours.
“My mummy told me stories of how Mr Lee was a good leader for Singapore. He has helped a lot of people by giving them a clean and nice country to live in,” said eight-year-old student Annabel Lee, who was lining up with her mother.
“I want to see him even though the weather is hot.”
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.
People waited patiently at the queue starting at the Padang, a large open field used for sports, concerts and National Day parades.
Free bottled water, pastries, sugared drinks and even sliced watermelons in plastic packs were handed out by donors to the mourners, who included entire families, the handicapped and the elderly.
“It’s the last day (of public viewing) today and I told my wife that I must come to pay my last respects, no matter what,” said government driver S. Sangarapandy, 60, who tearfully recalled Lee crying on national television when announcing Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post Friday he was “deeply moved by the overwhelming response” of people wanting to pay respects to his father.
But as many might not be able to do so because of the long queues, the government has set up a YouTube link (https://youtu.be/u7fvd6ndZkc) for people to follow the events live, he said.
The elder Lee is credited with the rise of the former British colony into one of the world’s wealthiest societies after he served as prime minister for 31 years, followed by another 20 years as cabinet adviser.
There has been a widespread show of grief—accompanied by tributes from world leaders—over the passing of the patriarch who governed Singapore with an iron fist, sidelining political opponents, muzzling the media and restricting political freedoms as he steered the economy to prosperity.
Lee is to be given full state honors before being cremated Sunday, including a 21-gun salute and a flyby by fighter jets.
Former US president Bill Clinton, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian King Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah are among the confirmed state representatives attending the funeral.