Prince William visit to honor Christchurch attack victims

William will represent his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, the official head of state of the former British colony. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 March 2019
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Prince William visit to honor Christchurch attack victims

  • A national remembrance service will be held in honor of the victims of the mosque attacks
  • Ardern said the focus of Friday’s service and next month’s royal visit was supporting the Muslim community

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: Prince William will visit victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings next month, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday on the eve of a national remembrance service being held in the grieving South Island city.
Ardern said the focus of Friday’s service and next month’s royal visit was supporting the Muslim community, which was devastated when a self-avowed white supremacist killed 50 people at two mosques in a shooting rampage.
Ardern will address the service, which has the theme “We Are One” and will be broadcast on national television.
She said representatives from 59 nations, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, were attending the event, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people.
The emphasis will be on the Islamic community, with an invocation ringing out across Hagley Park, speeches by Muslim leaders and a performance by Cat Stevens, the British singer who shunned stardom in the 1970s and became a Muslim, taking the name Yusuf Islam.
“This is an event that has affected New Zealand deeply, but it was our Muslim New Zealanders who were targeted in this act of hatred,” Ardern told reporters in Christchurch.
“Rightly so, that will be reflected in the remembrance service.”
She said William, the Duke of Cambridge, was “very keen to show his support for the city and the Muslim community as it emerges from this attack.”

William will represent his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, the official head of state of the former British colony.
“The visit will be another sign that this nation will always stand with those affected by the terror attacks, and the people of Christchurch,” Ardern said.
The royals have previously expressed sympathy for the attacks.
“The Duke will meet with those affected by the attack and will pay tribute to the extraordinary compassion and solidarity that the people of New Zealand have displayed in recent weeks,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.
Ardern said William already had a strong connection with Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region after visiting in the wake of a devastating 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people.
William made a two-day visit to Christchurch following the quake to attend a memorial service. He and his wife Kate also visited the city in 2014.
After the mosque attacks, William, Kate, Prince Harry and wife Meghan sent a message that ended “Kia kaha,” meaning “be strong” in Maori.
“No person should ever have to fear attending a sacred place of worship,” they said.
“This senseless attack is an affront to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand, and the broader Muslim community. It is a horrifying assault on a way of life that embodies decency, community, and friendship.”
Ardern has led efforts to support New Zealand’s small, tightly-knit Muslim community in the wake of the attack.
As well as symbolic gestures such as donning a headscarf while comforting survivors, she has also moved to tighten gun laws and called for social media giants to do more to combat hate speech.
She said New Zealanders were “on a journey” to uphold their core values and her government wanted to take a leadership role in ensuring that happened.
“We have never been free of racism, we have never been free of violent ideology,” she said
“But our overriding values are ones of fairness, compassion and diversity.”


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 3 min 10 sec ago
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.