SINGAPORE: Tens of thousands of mourners braved torrential rain, howitzers fired a 21-gun salute and jet fighters screamed across the sky on Sunday as Singapore staged a grand funeral for its founding leader Lee Kuan Yew.
“The light that has guided us all this years has been extinguished,” his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said in a state funeral at the National University of Singapore attended by Asia-Pacific leaders.
Lee’s coffin, draped in the red-and-white national flag and protected by a glass case atop a two-wheeled gun carriage, was earlier taken in a procession from parliament pulled by a ceremonial Land Rover as a rain-soaked crowd chanted his name.
Four F-16 fighters from the air force’s Black Knights aerobatic team performed a fly-past — with one peeling off to symbolize a “missing man” — as the cortege made its way through a square where Lee was first sworn in as prime minister in 1959.
He kept the position for 31 years, ruling with an iron fist to transform Singapore from a sleepy British colonial outpost into a gleaming metropolis that now enjoys one of the world’s highest standards of living.
Singapore became a republic in 1965 after a brief and stormy union with Malaysia. Lee, 91, died less than five months before the island celebrates its 50th anniversary as a nation.
A 21-gun salute is normally reserved for sitting heads of state but an exception was made for Lee.
“He is like a father to all Singaporeans, the past, present and future generations,” said Tan Yen Lee, 26, a staff nurse at the Singapore General Hospital where Lee died on Monday after a seven-week confinement for severe pneumonia.
People wept openly, waved flags and threw flowers on the street as the motorcade drove through districts associated with the political career of the British-trained former trade union lawyer.
Officials said more than 450,000 people — in a nation with just 3.34 million citizens — had paid their last respects to Lee by the time his public wake ended in parliament on Saturday night.
Strangers huddled together under umbrellas as they waited patiently along the 15-kilometer (10-mile) procession route.
Families including babies and grandparents turned up early to secure choice spots, bringing umbrellas and plastic ponchos in anticipation of rain.
Lee stepped down in 1990 in favor of his deputy Goh Chok Tong, who in turn was succeeded by Lee’s son.