Mosque attacks remembrance service begins in Christchurch

Christchurch (New Zealand) (AFP) –


A national remembrance service for victims of the New Zealand mosque attacks began in Christchurch Friday with a Maori lament echoing across the South Island city.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by representatives from 59 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, at the event which drew tens of thousands of people.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said the March 15 rampage by a white supremacist gunman that claimed 50 lives "was an attack on us all".

"Inspired as it was by hatred, those actions were designed to divide us and tear us apart," she said.

"They have instead united us as we are embraced in the compassion and love that we feel for each other no matter where we were born."

The service, with the theme "We Are One", was broadcast on national television.

Azra Chida travelled from Auckland to pay her respects, saying she lost two close friends, Linda Armstrong and Ata Elayyan, in the attack.

"I have come to see their families and pay respect and visit the patients in the hospital," she told AFP shortly before the ceremony began.

Local man Bobby Turner said: "I'm here for solidarity. To show that we care.

"It was just such a horrible thing to happen. These people were just going about their business. Prayer is supposed to be about love and peace."

The service heard a Muslim invocation, or du'a, and Cat Stevens -- the British singer who shunned stardom in the 1970s and became a Muslim, taking the name Yusuf Islam -- was due to perform.

It will also hear from Farid Ahmed, who survived the attack but whose wife Husna was killed.