Singaporeans hoping for a glimpse of founding father Lee Kuan Yew’s coffin are being urged to stay away as the waiting time for the thousands queuing to see him has risen to ten hours.
Singapore’s government said yesterday that it “strongly advises” the public not to join the queue and to instead visit local tribute sites set up across the island.
The city-state, famous for its clockwork handling of major events such as the night-time Singapore Grand Prix, seemed unprepared for the scale of the mourning.
Mr Lee’s death at age 91 on Monday has been met with an outpouring of grief in Singapore. He was Singapore’s prime minister for 31 years, ruling with an iron grip until 1990 and is regarded in Singapore as the architect of its economic success.
As of late yesterday morning some 230,000 people had viewed Mr Lee’s coffin at Parliament House, the government said. The queue of several miles started at the Padang, an open field in Singapore’s downtown, crosses a park and snakes along the Singapore River to Parliament House.
Mourners are now being given only a few seconds to file past the former leader’s brown wooden casket draped with the red-and-white Singapore flag in the parliament lobby.
Dozens of tents have been erected in the Padang to shelter mourners from the tropical sun and government workers handed out water to those queuing.
“I’m not afraid to wait,” said 44-year-old Idy Leong. “Even waiting for eight hours, I’ll still want to wait. Ten hours, I’ll also want to wait,” she said.
“I am deeply moved by the overwhelming response of people wanting to visit my father’s Lying in State at Parliament House,” prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Facebook.
He announced that a live video feed of the flow of mourners viewing the casket inside the parliament’s lobby had been put up on YouTube.
“The government can advise us not to queue all they want, and I understand this puts a strain on resources like volunteers and space, but that’s not going to stop us from coming down,” Pek Tee Ann, 51, said.
The turnout is massive by Singapore standards but the crowd was disciplined and morale appeared to be high.
“I feel the Singapore spirit around me, people are courteous and everyone is here for a common purpose, to honour our leader,” said 17-year-old student Shruti Ram.
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.
The mourners included the elderly in wheelchairs and mothers with babies or toddlers.
Among yesterday’s visitors were Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, whose country helped train Singapore’s army after independence from Malaysia in 1965.
Though credited with building the foundations of Singapore’s prosperity, Mr Lee’s legacy also includes a muzzled press, restrictions on free speech and a stunted democracy.
A slew of foreign leaders and dignitaries are expected at his funeral tomorrow including Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe and former US President Bill Clinton.
The cortege will take a ten-mile journey around key landmarks in the city before reaching the National University of Singapore for the funeral service.
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