Singapore overwhelmed by huge crowds mourning Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore overwhelmed by huge crowds mourning Lee Kuan Yew
Long queue along Connaught Drive on the morning of March 27, 2015.

SINGAPORE - Overwhelmed by the huge crowds who have turned out to pay respects to founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore tried Friday to discourage citizens from joining the queues but many said they were undeterred by the up to 10-hour wait.

The city-state, famous for its clockwork handling of events like the night-time Singapore Grand Prix, seemed unprepared for the scale of the outpouring of grief since the 91-year-old patriarch's death on Monday.

"Members of the public are strongly advised not to join the queue at the Padang now," said a Friday morning advisory which urged mourners to go instead to 18 community sites to pay homage to Lee.

The notice said mourners who arrived at 10:00 am (0200 GMT) could expect to wait up to 10 hours for a chance to file past the former leader's casket.

Lee has been lying in state at parliament since Wednesday. More than 230,000 mourners had paid their respects by midday on Friday, according to an official count.

The round-the-clock queue starts at the Padang -- a large grassy field which is used for parades and concerts as well as football, cricket and other sports.

At busy times, mourners can only spend a few seconds in front of the remains, many bowing quickly before being ushered to the exit.

But despite the government's appeal many Singaporeans braved a scorching sun for a chance to see the flag-draped casket of their former leader.

"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.

Tents have been set up to ease mourners discomfort queueing under a scorching sun, while volunteers hand out bottled water and sugared drinks, with portable toilets available in the field's corners.

An express lane has set up for the elderly, disabled and pregnant.

Minister for National Development Khaw Bhoon 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.

"We are afraid we will not be able to fulfil the wishes of Singaporeans. But we will do our best," he said.

Lee, who is credited with transforming the former British colonial outpost into a financial powerhouse and one of Asia's wealthiest societies, is to be given full state honours before being cremated Sunday.

His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has thanked the public for the emotional tributes to his father since he died Monday after seven weeks in hospital for severe pneumonia.

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