Over 415,000 pay respects to Singapore's Lee as wake ends

Amir Yusof

More than 415,000 people, equivalent to over 12 percent of Singapore's citizens, have visited parliament to pay their respects to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, officials said Saturday. An update from the State Funeral Organising Committee said the queue for mourners to enter the legislature would be closed at 8:00 pm (1200 GMT) in preparation for the Asian statesman's cremation on Sunday. Surging crowds late Friday forced the government to suspend the queue to enter parliament for safety reasons, but it was reopened before dawn Saturday once 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. On Saturday, VIP visitors at the public wake included Lee's old friend former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Indonesian ex-general Prabowo Subianto, who was beaten in last year's presidential election, also paid his respects, along with Chinese Internet tycoon Jack Ma. By mid-afternoon Saturday, the wait for public 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. 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. - 'Overwhelming response' - People waited patiently at the queue starting at the Padang, a large open field used for sports, concerts and National Day parades. "It's the last day 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. The former leader's son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post Friday he was "deeply moved by the overwhelming response" of people wanting to pay their respects. Some Singaporeans heeded calls to pay homage to the elder Lee at community sites instead of joining the crowds outside parliament. "I tried to go at Friday late night but the queue was suspended. I was disappointed but I had to pay my respects so I came here," David Chia said in Sengkang, a suburban residential neighbourhood. Lee served as prime minister for 31 years from 1959, when Singapore was given self-rule by Britain, 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. 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, Brunei's King Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Malaysian King Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah are among the foreign dignitaries attending the funeral. Colonial ruler Britain is to be represented by former foreign secretary William Hague.