Singaporeans pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew

More than 100,000 people line the streets in elaborate state funeral for the country's founding father and first PM.

    More than 100,000 people have lined Singapore's streets for the funeral of the city-state's founding father and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.

    People began gathering shortly after dawn on Sunday for the funeral cortege, as torrential rain soaked the crowds in elaborate state funeral normally reserved for a head of state.

    "The light that has guided us all these years has been extinguished," his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, told a state funeral attended by 2,200 people including Asia-Pacific leaders at the National University of Singapore.

    Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91

    Lee's coffin, draped in the red-and-white national flag and protected by a glass case atop a two-wheeled gun carriage, was taken in a procession from parliament to the university with close to 2,000 police officers ensuring security.

    "This is the only chance I have to say goodbye. It's the last time we can send him off," Pauline Chan,55, told Al Jazeera. "Rain or storm, I knew I just had to stand there. I missed the chance to visit him at the Parliament House, and it was weighing on my mind."

    People chanting Lee's name wept openly, waved miniature flags and threw flowers on the street as the motorcade drove through districts associated with his 60-year political career.

    Another Singaporean, Chin Eoh Kahn, 55, told Al Jazeera: "We all owe him. I am from the generation between his time and the next, and I feel like we have worked together with him to make Singapore what it is today."

    During a week of national mourning that began on Monday after Lee's death at age 91, more than 450,000 people, in a nation with just 3.34 million citizens - had paid their last respects to Lee, 91, before his wake ended in parliament on Saturday.

    "I am really surprised [by the turnout]," Mufidah Muhamat Bakri told Al Jazeera on Saturday. "There are many people who disagree with his policies and how he ruled the nation, but they still pay their respects."

    "People may not agree with him but that does not mean that they must hold a grudge and we know that he did the best he could. People want to acknowledge that," she said.

    The expansive show of emotion is a rare event for Singapore. The island nation is known around the world as a wealthy trade and finance centre with a strict social order, including a ban on chewing gum and caning for some crimes.

    Iron grip

    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.

    Lee stepped down in 1990 in favour of his deputy Goh Chok Tong, who in turn was succeeded by Lee's son, the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

    "He did everything for us Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion," said Jennie Yeo, a 58-year-old teacher, who arrived at 7am local time 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 attended the state funeral.

    Former US President Bill Clinton led the American delegation that also included former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, a close friend of Lee.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Malaysian King Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah and Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah were among the leaders attending the funeral.

    Singapore's former colonial ruler Britain was represented by Leader of the House of Commons William Hague, who earlier served as foreign secretary.

    Abroad, India declared a national day of mourning and in New Zealand, the government was flying flags at half-mast.

    Highlights of the procession included a 21-gun salute by four howitzers and a flyover by air force fighter jets. 

    During the funeral service, civil defence sirens blared across the island to begin a minute's silence.

    With additional reporting from Dene-Hern Chen in Singapore .

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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