Azaan broadcast across NZ to show solidarity with mosque attack victims

CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters): The Azaan was heard across New Zealand on Friday, as thousands gathered to remember the 50 people martyred by a lone gunman at two mosques a week ago.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led thousands of mourners gathered at a park in front of the Al Noor Mosque, where most of the victims died, for a prayer followed by two minutes of silence.

“New Zealand mourns with you. We are one,” she said in a short speech, prior to the two-minute silence.

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

The prime minister was accompanied in the Christchurch prayers with community leaders and other foreign dignitaries.

The Azaan was broadcasted nationally across all free-to-air TV and radio stations.

“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 the prayers.

Armed police have been guarding mosques around New Zealand since the attacks. Police said there would be a “heightened presence” on Friday to reassure those attending weekly prayers.

Candlelight vigils continued until late on Thursday across the country, while government officials worked through the night to prepare the mosque and the bodies of the deceased for a mass burial that expected after the prayers.

“All the bodies are washed. We finished around 1:30AM this morning. It was our duty. After we finished there was a lot of emotion, people were crying and hugging,” said a body washer in Christchurch who gave his name as Mo.

Newspapers across the country ran full-page memorials with the names of the victims, and a call for national mourning.

“A call to prayer…in unity there is strength,” New Zealand Herald said on its front page.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has been charged with murder following the attack.

He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.

Twenty-eight people wounded in the attacks remain in hospital, six in intensive care.

Most victims were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.

Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand’s population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.