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'We are one,' says PM Ardern as New Zealand mourns with prayers, silence

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attends the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Christchurch, New Zealand Mar 22, 2019, 09.53 AM (IST)

The Muslim call to prayer rang out over Christchurch and around New Zealand on Friday, as thousands gathered to remember the 50 people killed by a lone gunman at two mosques a week ago.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led an estimated 5,000 people standing quietly at Hagley Park in front of the Al Noor mosque, where most of the victims died.

"New Zealand mourns with you. We are one," she said in a short speech, followed by two minutes of silence.

Most victims of New Zealand's worst mass shooting were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

"We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken. We are alive, we are together, we are determined to not let anyone divide us," Imam Gamal Fouda told the gathered crowd, many wearing headscarves in support of the grieving Muslim community.

"To the families of the victims, your loved ones did not die in vain. Their blood has watered the seeds of hope," he said in prayers broadcast nationally.

Ardern, who swiftly denounced the attack as terrorism, announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws on Thursday.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with one murder following the Christchurch attack and was remanded without a plea.

Tarrant is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.

ISLAMOPHOBIA

Ardern, surrounded by ministers and security officials, wore a black headscarf and a black suit. Female police at the park also wore headscarfs, with a red rose on their body suit.

In a powerful speech that lasted about 20 minutes, Imam Gamal said through its love and compassion, New Zealand is unbreakable. He thanked Ardern for her compassion.

"It has been a lesson for world leaders," the Imam said about the prime minister.

"Thank you for holding our families close and honouring us with a simple scarf," he added.

He said Islamophobia dehumanises Muslims and called on the world to end hate speech and the politics of fear.

"Last week's event is proof and evidence to the entire world that terrorism has no colour, race or religion. The rise of white supremacy is a great global threat to humanity and this must end now," he said.

Thousands of people gathered at mosques in Wellington, Auckland and other cities for the prayers, with many non-Muslims wearing headscarves.

"We are wearing headscarves showing our support, love and solidarity, and hope that by everybody doing this it will demonstrate to Muslim women ... that they are one with us," said Robyn Molony, 65, with a group of a friend wearing headscarves at Hagley Park, where they walked daily.

A #headscarfforharmony movement was trending on Twitter.

Muslims account for just over 1 per cent of New Zealand's population, most of whom were born overseas.

"We're not moving on. This grieving is going to take a long time," said 52-year-old Christchurch resident Bell Sibly, who wore a headscarf to show her support.

"But what he's done, he was hoping to divide us, and instead, he's brought us all together in one big hug."

Burials of the victims began on Wednesday, with a final mass burial expected after prayers on Friday.

Residents of Christchurch are still recovering from a devastating earthquake that hit in 2011, killing 185 and injured thousands.

"Since the earthquakes, we’ve gone through a lot as a city and we’re a lot more caring and looking out for one another,” said James Sheehan, 62.

Story highlights

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led an estimated 5,000 people standing quietly at Hagley Park in front of the Al Noor mosque, where most of the victims died.