Singapore’s farewell to leader Lee Kuan Yew

The lavish funeral brought dignitaries from around the world. Picture: AP
The lavish funeral brought dignitaries from around the world. Picture: AP
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The people of Singapore have bid farewell to longstanding leader Lee Kuan Yew with an elaborate procession and three-hour state funeral.

His son, the current prime minister, paid tribute to the statesman and declared that the wealthy city state he helped build is his monument.

Tens of thousands of people undeterred by heavy rain lined a nine-mile route through the city to catch a glimpse of the cortege.

Mr Lee’s coffin, draped in Singapore’s red-and-white flag and protected from the downpour by a glass casing, lay on a ceremonial gun carriage that was led past city landmarks from parliament to a cultural centre where the funeral was held.

Walking slowly in the coffin’s wake as it exited parliament were Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, other family members and government officials.

Along the way, crowds of people chanted “Lee Kuan Yew”, took photographs with smartphones and waved Singapore’s flag. Four howitzers fired a 21-gun salute, air force fighter jets streaked over the island, with one peeling off in a “missing man” formation, and navy patrol ships blasted horns.

“To those who seek Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s monument, Singaporeans can reply proudly: Look around you,” Lee Hsien Loong said at a funeral service attended by more than 2,000 people.

During a week of national mourning that began last Monday after Mr Lee’s death aged 91, some 450,000 people queued for hours for a glimpse of his 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 and its 5.5 million people. The island nation 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. He is regarded by Singaporeans as the architect of their nation’s prosperity and harmonious relations among ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian populations.

But his authoritarian rule and crushing of dissent 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 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 attended the funeral. The US delegation was led by former President Bill Clinton, while others there included India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Australia’s Tony Abbott.

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

Last week, political leaders paid an emotional tribute in a special sitting of Parliament. Low Thia Khiang, the leader of Singapore’s tiny political opposition, acknowledged Mr Lee’s role in nation-building in a brief speech, but said he did not believe one-party rule was the key to the country’s economic development.

“Many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation-building and policymaking, and our society has paid a price for it,” he said. “This is why Mr Lee is also a controversial figure in some people’s eyes.”