NZ leader Ardern vows to deny accused gunman notoriety he seeks

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Muslim community leaders after the Parliament session in Wellington on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Students perform a welcome for Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern before she spoke to them after two of their classmates were killed in the mosque shooting during a visit to Cashmere High School in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 20, 2019. (AFP /Marty Melville)
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Updated 20 March 2019
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NZ leader Ardern vows to deny accused gunman notoriety he seeks

  • ‘You will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal.’
  • “He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand,” Ardern promised grieving Kiwis

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed Tuesday never to utter the name of the twin-mosque gunman as she opened a somber session of Parliament with an evocative “as salaam alaikum” message of peace to Muslims.

“He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand,” Ardern promised grieving Kiwis, while promising that she would deprive the man who slaughtered 50 people in Christchurch of the publicity he craved.

“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety,” she told assembled lawmakers of the 28-year-old Australian accused of the slaughter.

“That is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”

“I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.”

Dressed in black, the 38-year-old leader opened her remarks in Parliament with the symbolism of the greeting uttered across the Islamic world.

“Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh” she said — ‘May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you too.’

She closed her address by noting that “on Friday, it will be a week since the attack, members of the Muslim community will gather for worship on that day. Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.”

Her comments came as dozens of relatives of the deceased began arriving from around the world ahead of expected funerals which have already been delayed far beyond the 24 hours after death usually observed under Islamic custom.

The slow process of identification and forensic documentation has so far made burials impossible, augmenting families’ grief.

Javed Dadabhai, who traveled from Auckland to help bury his cousin, said families and volunteers were told: “It is going to be a very slow process, a very thorough process.”

“Some families have been invited to have a look at their family members... the ones that are easiest to recognize, but we are talking about three or four.”

“The majority of people still have not had the opportunity to see their family members,” he told AFP.

In the wake of the mass shooting, Ardern has promised to reform New Zealand gun laws that allowed the gunman to legally purchase the weapons he used in the attack on two Christchurch mosques, including semi-automatic rifles.

New Zealanders have already begun answering government appeals to hand in their weapons, including John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton.

Hart said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted that “on the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.”

The tweet drew a barrage of derogatory messages to his Facebook account —  most apparently from the US, where the pro-gun lobby is powerful and vociferous.

Hart deleted the messages but posted online: “A warm kia ora to all my new American Facebook friends.”

“I’m not familiar with your local customs, but I assume ‘Cuck’ is a traditional greeting,” he said of the insult, short for “cuckold” frequently used by far-right pundits.

Police said they did not have data available on the number of weapons handed in since Friday.


Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

Updated 22 min 10 sec ago
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Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

  • The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang
  • Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances

BEIJING: A Belgian diplomat was expected to travel to China’s restive Xinjiang region on Tuesday to confirm the whereabouts of a Uighur family that was escorted from Belgium’s embassy in Beijing by police last month.
The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances.
“I am worried about their safety,” he told AFP. “I hope they can safely come be at my side as soon as possible, and our family can reunite.”
Belgium’s decision to dispatch a diplomat to Xinjiang comes as the embassy faces criticism for allegedly enabling Chinese police to take the family back to Xinjiang — where they could face detention.
“The case exposes the additional risk Uighurs in China face even if they want to seek help from foreign governments,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.
“The Belgian embassy set an extremely bad example of how governments put economic interests above human rights,” he told AFP.
China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.
The mother, Horiyat Abula, and her four children traveled to Beijing at the end of May to complete missing paperwork for their family reunification visas.
According to Tursun, his wife and children panicked upon learning it would take “at least three months” for their visas to be approved and refused to leave the embassy.
They were afraid to return to their hotel because police had visited them multiple times since they arrived in Beijing, he explained.
“The police came in the middle of the night, asking why they came to Beijing, when they would return,” he said. “They were very scared, they didn’t sleep all night.”
The embassy offered to accompany Abula and her four children back to their hotel, but they “refused to leave the embassy in a kind of sit-in,” a Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
In an interview published Tuesday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told Le Soir newspaper that the diplomatic police “asked the family to leave the premises” and the situation was explained to the father the next day.
An embassy is not intended to “lodge people” applying for visas, he said.
In the end, Chinese police “escorted them away,” the Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
A few days later, Abula and her children were taken away by Xinjiang police, her husband said, and he has not heard from her since.
Reynders told the Belga news agency on Monday that the diplomat would go to the address given by the father to check if “everything is going well” with them.
“My only concern here is that we can reunite the family,” he told Belga.
On Monday the foreign ministry did not have confirmation that they were at home.
The case highlights the barriers Uighurs face in attempting to leave China.
According to human rights groups, authorities in Xinjiang have confiscated passports of Uighurs, making it difficult for them to join their relatives overseas.
Abula and her children too have struggled to obtain passports — an issue that Belgium’s ambassador will take up with China’s director of consular affairs, Reynders told Belga.
Abula applied for a passport in 2017, but never received one, according to receipts seen by AFP.
Tursun believes that the family “took a risk” by traveling outside Xinjiang in the first place.
“If my family then returns to (Xinjiang’s capital) Urumqi, it’s very likely that they will be sent to a concentration camp,” he wrote in March in an email to a non-profit helping the family with their visa application.