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CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand would hold a national remembrance service for victims of the Christchurch massacre on March 29, the government announced on Sunday.

The service will take place in Christchurch at 10am, two weeks after an Australian white terrorist gunned down 50 Muslims and wounded dozens of others during Friday prayers at two mosques in the city.

“The national remembrance service provides an opportunity for Cantabrians [Christchurch-area residents], New Zealanders and people all around the world to come together as one to honour the victims of the terrorist attack,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a statement.

Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old motivated by the white extremist belief that Muslims were “invading” Western countries, was arrested within minutes of the massacre and has been charged with murder.

The slaughter, which he cold-bloodedly live-streamed, has rocked the normally laid-back country of 4.5 million.

“In the week since the unprecedented terror attack there has been an outpouring of grief and love in our country,” Ardern said.

“The service will be a chance to once again show that New Zealanders are compassionate, inclusive and diverse, and that we will protect those values.”

The service will be held at Hagley Park in Christchurch, located across the street from the Al Noor mosque where the killing spree began on March 15. Most victims were shot dead at Al Noor mosque before Tarrant moved to the Linwood Mosque, some kilometres away, killing seven others.

Police subsequently took over the mosques for investigations and security reasons, but handed them back to the Muslim community on March 23.

The faithful were allowed back into Al Noor shortly afterwards, and on Sunday Linwood reopened after both sites underwent hasty work to repair bullet holes and clean bloodstains.

Present for Linwood mosque’s reopening was Afghan refugee Abdul Aziz, who was hailed as a hero after he chased Tarrant away from the mosque wielding only a hand-held credit card machine, likely preventing further bloodshed.

“When I passed through [the door] I got this pressure in my head,” Aziz, a 48-year-old father of four, said as he joined the mosque’s imam, Alabi Lateef Zirullah, in reclaiming the house of worship.

“It brings all the memories back. But we have to move on. It takes time to heal, but we have to be strong,” he said.

“If I didn’t face him [the shooter] I would have been killed anyway. My life was not more important than the 80 or 100 people inside the mosque.”

Donations pour in

New Zealand came to a standstill on Friday to mark one week since the bloodshed, with the Muslim call to prayer broadcast across the country from a ceremony at Hagley Park followed by two minutes of silence.

The government has picked up the tab for the burial of victims, which were conducted over the past week, and Ardern has said it will bear costs of relocating shattered families out of New Zealand if they wish.

More than NZ$10.8 million ($7.4m) in public donations for the affected families was received as of Sunday morning, according to the fund-raising websites GiveaLittle.co.nz and LaunchGood.com, a global crowdfunding platform focused on Muslims.

Meanwhile, thousands gathered in the country’s cities on Sunday in protest against racism. About 15,000 turned out for an evening vigil in Christchurch in the park near the Al Noor mosque. The vigil started with an Islamic prayer, followed by a reading of the names of the victims, which included students from the nearby Cashmere High School. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can,” Okirano Tilaia, one of the school’s pupils, told the crowd. “Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can.”

Earlier during the day over 1,000 people marched in a rally against racism in central Auckland, carrying placards with slogans like “Migrant lives matter” and “Refugees welcome here”. Muslims account for just over 1 per cent of New Zealand’s 4.8-million population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019