Singapore bids farewell to Lee Kuan Yew in elaborate funeral


TIME:

Tens of thousands of Singaporeans undeterred by heavy rains lined a 15 kilometer (9 mile) route through the Southeast Asian city-state to witness an elaborate funeral procession Sunday for longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew.

Lee’s coffin, protected from the downpour by a glass casing, lay atop a ceremonial gun carriage that was being led solemnly past city landmarks from parliament to a cultural center where the state funeral will be held. Walking slowly in the coffin’s wake as it exited parliament were Lee’s son, the current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, other family members and government officials.

Crowds of people that began forming not long after dawn for the early afternoon funeral cortege chanted “Lee Kuan Yew” and waved Singapore’s national flag. Four howitzers fired a 21-gun salute, air force fighter jets streaked over the island and navy patrol ships blasted horns.

During a week of national mourning that began Monday after Lee’s death at age 91, some 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 centers around the city.

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

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 7 a.m. to stake out front row positions with two friends. “Education, housing, everything you can think of, he’s taken care of for us,” she said.

Leaders and dignitaries from more than two dozen countries are attending the state funeral. The U.S. delegation is 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-staff.

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

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew dies at 91

Lee Kuan Yew gives the victory sign to his supporters in April 2011

BBC:

Lee Kuan Yew, the statesman who transformed Singapore from a small port city into a wealthy global hub, has died at the age of 91. The city-state’s prime minister for 31 years, he was widely respected as the architect of Singapore’s prosperity.

But he was criticized for his iron grip on power. Under him freedom of speech was tightly restricted and political opponents were targeted by the courts.

A state funeral will be held on 29 March, after a week of mourning. In an emotional televised address, his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid tribute to him.

He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won’t see another man like him.”

Mr Lee oversaw Singapore’s independence from Britain and separation from Malaysia. His death was announced early on Monday. He had been in hospital for several weeks with pneumonia and was on life support.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply saddened” by Mr Lee’s death. US President Barack Obama described him as a “giant of history”. The Chinese foreign ministry called him “a uniquely influential statesman in Asia”.

‘Lifetime of building’

In Singapore, a steady stream of people arrived at the hospital and the Istana, the prime minister’s office, to offer their condolences.

A charismatic figure, Mr Lee co-founded the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has governed Singapore since 1959, and was its first prime minister. The Cambridge-educated lawyer led Singapore through merger with, and then separation from, Malaysia.

Speaking after the split in 1965, he pledged to build a meritocratic, multi-racial nation. But tiny Singapore – with no natural resources – needed a new economic model.

We knew that if we were just like our neighbours, we would die,” Mr Lee told the New York Times in 2007.

We had to produce something which is different and better than what they have.”

A woman and her daughters cry as they mourn the passing of former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, at Singapore General Hospital on 23 March 2015

As the news broke, people began arriving at the hospital to pay their respects

People lay flowers, as they mourn the passing of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, outside the Istana in Singapore, on 23 March 2015

As the morning went on, mourners arrived at the Istana, the prime minister’s office, with flowers and cards

Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew speaks during a rally at Farrer park in Singapore on 15 August 1955

Mr Lee, seen here on 15 August 1955, was determined that Singapore would succeed

As the long wait for the inevitable continued, the floral tributes piled up right outside the city-state’s main hospital, often laid by tearful, older Singaporeans who truly see this sharp-tongued, tough-minded man as a father figure.

And while there were many affectionate comments from well-wishers, there was still some fear of this extraordinary leader, who has dominated Singapore for the whole of its independent existence, and once threatened to rise from the grave if he saw things happening that he did not like.

For all of its impressive successes, this is still a country with Lee Kuan Yew’s imprint visible everywhere. He was unapologetic about the repressive measures he used to impose order, and unapologetic about believing his prescriptions alone were the right ones. No-one is quite sure what direction Singapore will now take without him.

Mr Lee set about creating a highly educated work force fluent in English, and reached out to foreign investors to turn Singapore into a manufacturing hub. The city-state grew wealthy and later developed into a major financial centre.

But building a nation came with tight controls – and one of Mr Lee’s legacies was a clampdown on the press, tight restrictions that remain in place today.

Dissent – and political opponents – were ruthlessly quashed. Today, Mr Lee’s PAP remains firmly in control. There are currently six opposition lawmakers in parliament. Other measures, such as corporal punishment, a ban on chewing gum and the government’s foray into matchmaking for Singapore’s brightest – to create smarter babies – led to perceptions of excessive state interference.

But Mr Lee remained unmoved.

Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up,” he told a rally in 1980. “I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.”