Singapore in farewell to leader Lee

Published: Sunday 29th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Thousands of Singaporeans have lined a nine-mile route through the city state amid heavy rain to witness an elaborate funeral procession for long-time leader Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Lee’s coffin, protected from the downpour by a glass casing, lay atop a ceremonial gun carriage led solemnly past city landmarks from parliament to a cultural centre where the state funeral was being held.

Walking slowly in its wake were Lee’s son, the current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, and other family members and government members.

Crowds that began forming not long after dawn for the early afternoon funeral cortege chanted “Lee Kuan Yew” and waved Singapore’s national flag as the coffin left the grounds of parliament. Four howitzers began firing a 21-gun salute.

During a week of national mourning that began on Monday after Mr Lee’s death at 91, around 450,000 people queued for hours for a glimpse of the statesman’s coffin at Parliament House. A million people visited tribute sites at community centres around the city.

The expansive show of emotion is a rare event for Singapore. The island nation about four times the size of Washington DC is known around the world as a wealthy trade and finance centre with a strict social order including a ban on chewing gum and caning for some crimes.

Mr Lee was Singapore’s prime minister for more than three decades, ruling with an iron grip until 1990, and is regarded by Singaporeans as the architect of their nation’s prosperity and harmonious race relations. But his authoritarian rule has also left a legacy of restrictions on free speech, a tame media and a stunted democracy.

“He did everything for us Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion,” said Jennie Yeo, a 58-year-old teacher, who arrived at 7am to stake out front-row positions with two friends. “Education, housing, everything you can think of, he’s taken care of for us.”

Leaders and dignitaries from more than two dozen countries were attending the state funeral, with the US delegation led by former president Bill Clinton.

Abroad, India has declared a national day of mourning and in New Zealand, the government is flying flags at half-mast.

During the funeral service, civil defence sirens were to blare across the island to begin a minute’s silence.

Published: Sunday 29th March 2015 by The News Editor

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