Tens of thousands of Singaporeans braved waits of up to 10 hours outside parliament today to pay their last respects to founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, despite appeals from overwhelmed officials to honour him elsewhere.
The city-state, famous for its clockwork handling of major events like the night-time Singapore Grand Prix, seemed unprepared for the scale of the outpouring of grief since their 91-year-old first prime minister died on Monday.
“Members of the public are strongly advised not to join the queue at the Padang now,” said a government advisory which urged mourners to go instead to 18 community sites to pay homage to Lee, who is revered for transforming Singapore from a British colonial outpost into one of Asia’s richest societies.
The round-the-clock queue outside parliament starts at the Padang—a large grassy field used for parades and concerts as well as football, cricket and other sports.
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.
More than 250,000 mourners had paid their respects by mid-afternoon today, according to an official count, up from about 150,000 at midnight yesterday.
“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.
Lee has been lying in state since Wednesday and the public has until 8:00 pm (1200 GMT) tomorrow to pay their respects.
“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,” mourner Pek Tee Ann, 51, told AFP.
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 in tow.
Among today’s visitors were Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose country helped train Singapore’s army in the early years after independence from Malaysia in 1965.