Thousands of Singaporeans are lining a 15 kilometer (9 mile) route through the Southeast Asian city-state to witness an elaborate funeral procession on Sunday for longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew.
People began gathering shortly after dawn for the funeral cortege, which begins early in the afternoon. As they waited, some sang a patriotic national song, handed out national flags and sheltered under umbrellas from downpours of rain.
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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 across the city.
The expansive show of emotion is a rare event for Singapore. The island nation about four times the size of Washington DC 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 island’s prosperity. But his authoritarian rule has also left a legacy of restrictions on free speech, a tame media and a stunted democracy. His son, Lee Hsieng Loong, is the current prime minister.
“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.
Highlights of the procession are expected to include a 21-gun salute by four howitzers and a flyover by air force fighter jets. Churches will toll their bells.
During the funeral service, civil defense sirens will blare across the island to begin a minute’s silence.