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Crowds brave heat and long wait to pay their final respects
FOR an entire day, it seemed as if nothing else mattered for many Singaporeans. All they wanted was a moment - even if just a fleeting one - to say their final farewells to the late Lee Kuan Yew.
From daybreak on Wednesday, several thousand people had lined the 2km route from the Istana's main gate to Parliament House, eager to get a glimpse of the gun carriage bearing the casket of the country's first prime minister.
By the time the cortege arrived at its destination, thousands more were waiting patiently for their turn to enter the entrance hall of Parliament House, where Mr Lee's body now lies in state.
Neither the unforgiving mid-day heat nor the knowledge that they would have to remain in line for as long as eight hours to get in would deter them.
The queues stretched for more than 3km, as far as South Bridge Road and Boat Quay in the afternoon, and although the police repeatedly urged people against joining the line, few took the advice.
A florist who runs a shop near the Raffles Place MRT station placed buckets of white flowers on the ground, inviting the public to take a stalk each for free if they were planning to leave a tribute for Mr Lee.
Staff at the nearby Fullerton and Grand Park City Hall hotels trotted out boxes of bottled water and handed them out to the crowd; some eateries along the queue put out stools for people to rest as they waited for the line to move.
Once inside Parliament House, they cherished their final moment with Mr Lee, who died on Monday at the age of 91 after a six-week-long battle with severe pneumonia.
Everyone - from school children, diplomats and business leaders to housewives, taxi drivers and office workers - took the chance to pay tribute in their own way. Most bowed as they approached the casket, some saluted. Many brushed away tears; one woman sobbed loudly and had to be consoled by family members.
Among the dignitaries who visited on the first day of the public wake were Sultan of Johor Ibrahim Ismail and his family. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stepped up to the casket with him as he paid his last respects.
In a gesture that surprised many, the choir from St John's College at the University of Cambridge performed a rendition of local singer Kit Chan's hit song, Home, as PM Lee, his wife Ho Ching and his brother Lee Hsien Yang looked on nearby.
Different groups of people, mostly friends and ex-colleagues of Mr Lee, took turns to keep vigil through the day.
They included hotelier Ong Beng Seng, Singapore Airlines chairman Stephen Lee, Surbana chairman Liew Mun Leong and Mr Lee's former principal private secretaries, including Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.
The sheer number of people who showed up prompted the authorities to announce that the lying-in-state would take place round the clock each day and until 8pm on Saturday.
Train services and various feeder bus services continued operating non-stop on Wednesday night to meet the demand for public transport.
The third day of the week-long national mourning period had begun with the transfer of the casket from the Istana to Parliament House. The proceedings started with a solemn ceremony at the Istana, when the state flag was draped over the casket, the highest state honour that can be accorded to a Singapore leader.
The casket was then loaded on the ceremonial gun carriage. Mr Lee's eldest son, PM Lee, and the rest of his family followed on foot in a procession.
As the carriage left the Istana and approached Orchard Road, the crowd, which had remained largely silent until that point, cheered and clapped. Cries of "Lee Kuan Yew! Lee Kuan Yew!" rang out as the procession made its final turn into the driveway of Parliament House.
Meanwhile, the tributes continued to pour in from all over the world. More than 2,500 staff, students and alumni of the Nanyang Technological University, most wearing black ribbons on their sleeves, packed an auditorium where they paid tribute.
On Tuesday, lawmakers in New Zealand, including Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, spoke in parliament about Mr Lee's achievements and contributions. Mr English described Mr Lee as a "long-time friend of New Zealand and a supporter of New Zealand's role in South-east Asia"; former Labour leader Phil Goff said Mr Lee's 1965 speech on Singapore's separation from Malaysia was "the first political speech that ever impacted on me".
Forbes Media chairman and editor-in-chief Steve Forbes wrote that one of his company's "journalistic coups" took place in 2001, when Mr Lee agreed to write a column every three months to share his insights on world affairs. "He made Singapore an economic powerhouse, demonstrating that so-called natural resources aren't necessary for prosperity, that the key is creating an environment in which human ingenuity can thrive," said Mr Forbes, adding that it was "unfortunate that the civilised world has lost such a wise voice at this troubled time".
On Thursday afternoon, there will be a special parliament sitting, during which 11 MPs are scheduled to rise and pay tribute to Mr Lee.
They include Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang, former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng and nominated MPs Thomas Chua and Chia Yong Yong.
The House will observe a minute's silence after all the tributes are delivered.
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