Singapore restricts access to Lee`s public wake over safety fears
The Singapore government late Friday ordered mourners to stay off a congested field near parliament for safety reasons as tens of thousands paid their last respects to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Singapore: The Singapore government late Friday ordered mourners to stay off a congested field near parliament for safety reasons as tens of thousands paid their last respects to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Outnumbered police officers were turning away mourners at the City Hall metro station next to the Padang, an open field where the mourners were queueing to enter the legislature.
"The Padang queue is closed for public safety. Please go back home," a police officer said using a loudhailer.
A government statement said that as of 11 pm, more than 290,000 people had paid their respects to Lee since his casket was brought to parliament`s main lobby on Wednesday after a private family wake.
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.
Thousands more were massed in long, snaking lines, packed like cattle at some points, despite waiting times of up to 10 hours.
The statement said that although the government would like to accommodate more people, they were "temporarily" suspending the queue for the safety and well-being of those in line.
"We will inform the public when the queue is open again," it said, urging people to pay homage at 18 locations around the island.
Until the suspension, the queue ran for 24 hours following an overwhelming show of sympathy for the revered patriarch who transformed Singapore from a British colonial outpost into one of Asia`s wealthiest societies in just 30 years.
The 91-year-old Asian elder statesman died on Monday after a long illness.
"Yes, I am disappointed. We made plans to come on Friday night because we are all working," said sales executive Shawna Tseng, 27.
"We won`t be turning back. We will wait until they repoen the line," she told AFP after unsuccessfully trying to negotiate entry with a stern police commando, who curtly replied "my advice to you is to go home now".
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.To speed up the movement, mourners were given only a few seconds to file past the former leader`s brown wooden casket draped with the red-and-white Singapore flag.
"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 was supposed to have until 8 pm (1200 GMT) on Saturday 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 earlier Friday.
The turnout is massive by Singapore standards but the crowd was disciplined and morale appeared to be high.
The mourners included the elderly in wheelchairs and mothers with babies or toddlers in tow.
Among Friday`s visitors were Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose country helped train Singapore`s army in the early years after independence from Malaysia in 1965.
Former Indonesian presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Megawati Sukarnoputri also paid their respects Friday. Yudhoyono, a former army general, saluted in front of Lee`s coffin before making a slight bow.
Tents have been set up to shield mourners from the scorching tropical sun while volunteers hand out bottled water and sugared drinks, with portable toilets available nearby.
An express lane is reserved for the elderly, disabled and pregnant while foreign dignitaries enter via a VIP entrance.
Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan, chairman of the ruling People`s Action Party (PAP), told activists late Thursday that the outpouring of emotion had "exceeded our expectations," the Straits Times reported.
Lee is to be given full state honours before being cremated Sunday, including a 21-gun salute and a flypast by fighter jets.
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 and Malaysian King Sultan Abdul Halim Mu`adzam Shah are among the confirmed state representatives attending the funeral.