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New Zealand holds moving remembrance service for Christchurch shooting victims

Women weep during the National Remembrance Service in Christchurch [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 29 March, 2019

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The most moving speech came from a survivor who lost his wife telling the crowd of 20,000 that he forgives the shooter.
A national remembrance service has been held in New Zealand to commemorate those who died in the tragic mosque shootings in Christchurch two weeks ago, in which a far-right Australian 28-year-old man is accused of entering two mosques and gunning down 50 Friday-prayer goers.

Farih Ahmed, who survived the shooting, told a crowd of about 20,000 that he forgives the man who is standing trial for killing his wife and 49 other people.

"I don't want to have a heart that is boiling like a volcano," Ahmed said. "A volcano has anger, fury, rage. I don't want to have a heart like this".

The name of Ahmed's wife, Husna Ahmed, was among the 50 names read out by members of the Muslim community during a solemn part of the service. Twenty-two victims remain in hospital, among them a critically injured four-year-old girl.

It was the third major memorial held in Christchurch since the 15 March slaughter of worshippers who were inside the two mosques for Friday prayers. Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder in the attacks.

The latest memorial service was a more formal occasion, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other foreign dignitaries attending, representing nearly 60 nations.

New Zealand's police force closed down nearby streets and patrolled the park with semi-automatic weapons. But the atmosphere was relaxed during the 90-minute commemoration held on a sunny morning in Hagley Park, near al-Nour mosque where the shooting started.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who wore an indigenous Maori cloak, said the world had been stuck in a vicious cycle of extremism which must end. She said her country had learned the stories of those impacted by the attacks.

"They were stories of bravery. They were stories of those who were born here, grew up here, or who had made New Zealand their home. Who had sought refuge, or sought a better life for themselves or their families," she said. "These stories, they now form part of our collective memories. They will remain with us forever. They are us."

The featured musical guest was British singer Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens, who converted to Islam in 1977.

"We learn about things through their opposites," the singer said. "And it's through opposites like this, the evilness of that act and what drove it, we find its opposite, which is the love and kindness and unity that has sprung up right here in New Zealand."

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