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SINGAPORE – Singaporeans turned out in the tens of thousands Sunday to pay final respects to longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore's prime minister for more than three decades until 1990, Lee died last Monday at age 91. His cortege took a 15-kilometer (9-mile) route through the city-state before a three-hour state funeral. Singaporeans credit Lee's leadership with laying the foundation of the Southeast Asian country's current prosperity, and his death triggered a wave of emotion rarely seen in Singapore.
Some scenes from Sunday:
As the funeral cortege left Parliament, where Lee lay in state for four days, heavy rain poured down on onlookers, some of whom had waited for hours for a glimpse of the procession. Huddled beneath a canopy of umbrellas, the crowds sang patriotic songs, waved Singapore flags and chanted "Lee Kuan Yew." On a nearby open field known as the Padang, Howitzer cannons were fired, creating a haze of smoke, and four air force fighter jets streaked across the island, one peeling off in a "missing man" formation. Navy patrol ships made an "LKY" signal with their flags and sounded horns.
Seeing the coffin draped in Singapore's red and white flag and protected by a glass casing as it sat atop a ceremonial gun carriage, an elderly Chinese man at the Padang shouted "Thank you, Lee Kuan Yew" as tears streamed down his face. A couple dressed in black wrapped arms around each other's waist as the teary woman rested her head on her male partner's shoulder.
Reflecting on his own life, port systems planner Teo Chai Beng, 59, said, "I was a foster child, I was mistreated, I worried about where my next meal would come from. I had nothing but P6 (Primary 6) education." Then he added, "Thanks to him, I am a supervisor now, and myself and my two sons all have houses."
A sea of men and women, some 2,200 people in all, dressed in the mourning colors of black and white filled a cultural center auditorium for the state funeral service. A lone figure dressed in a blue shirt popped out from the monochrome scene. Seated in an elevated row, world leaders past and present, from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, somberly surveyed the proceedings. A giant photo of an elderly, benevolent-looking Lee gazed down on the mourners. Calling Lee Kuan Yew "Papa," youngest son Lee Hsien Yang said he and the family were overwhelmed by the outpouring of emotion throughout Singapore.
Civil defense sirens blared across the island, signaling the start of a minute of silence as the funeral service neared its conclusion. A hush fell on community centers dotted around the city where many Singaporeans gathered to watch the live broadcast of the funeral. Buses and trains stopped. Another wail of the sirens signaled the silence was over.
People flocked to the Mandai Crematorium hoping for a very last glimpse of the funeral cortege as the Lee family gathered for a private cremation. "Lee Kuan Yew! Lee Kuan Yew!" chanted the crowd, waving flags as they noticed family members arriving. Then everyone fell back into silence as they waited for the coffin. When it appeared, the crowd of hundreds burst into applause and chants.