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.”


India’s marathon national election reaches the finish line

An Indian election officer (R) marks the finger of a voter at a polling centre on the outskirts of Amritsar on May 19, 2019, during the 7th and final phase of India's general election. (AFP)
Updated 10 min 24 sec ago
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India’s marathon national election reaches the finish line

  • Modi visited West Bengal 17 times in an effort to make inroads with his Hindu nationalist agenda, provoking sporadic violence and prompting the Election Commission to cut off campaigning there
  • Indian television channels have had a mixed record in the past in predicting election results

KOLKATA, India: Voting in India’s mammoth national election ended Sunday with the seventh and final phase of a grueling poll that lasted more than five weeks, as exit polls predicted a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party and its allies.
Vote counting begins on Thursday, and the election result will likely be known the same day.
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP’s main opposition is the Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has produced three prime ministers.
Exit polls by four leading television news channels — Republic, TimesNow, New Delhi Television and India today- projected a victory for the BJP and its allies with 287 to 339 seats out of 543 — far ahead of the 272 seats needed to form the next government.
The Congress party and its allies are likely to win 122 to 128 seats, the TV channels said. Indian television channels have had a mixed record in the past in predicting election results.
Total voter turnout in the national election was 64.9%, the national election commission said, up from 58% in the last national vote in 2014.
Gandhi questioned the way the election was conducted by the autonomous Election Commission, saying the election schedule was manipulated to help Modi’s party.
“The EC used to be feared & respected. Not anymore,” Gandhi tweeted Sunday evening, without giving any details.
Sunday’s voting covered Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, a holy Hindu city where he was elected in 2014 with an impressive margin of over 200,000 votes. Modi spent Saturday night at Kedarnath, a temple of the Hindu god Shiva nestled in the Himalayas in northern India.
The final election round included 59 constituencies in eight states. Up for grabs were 13 seats in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, four in Himachal Pradesh and three in Jharkhand and Chandigarh.
In Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, voters lined up outside polling stations early Sunday morning to avoid the scorching heat, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit). Armed security officials stood guard in and outside the centers amid fear of violence.
While the election, which began April 11, was largely peaceful, West Bengal, located in eastern India, was an exception. Modi is challenged there by the state’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, who heads the more inclusive Trinamool Congress party and is eyeing a chance to go to New Delhi as the opposition’s candidate for prime minister.
Modi visited West Bengal 17 times in an effort to make inroads with his Hindu nationalist agenda, provoking sporadic violence and prompting the Election Commission to cut off campaigning there.
On Sunday, Nirmala Sitharaman, a BJP leader and the country’s defense minister, accused Banerjee’s supporters of attacking her party members and preventing them from voting at several places in six of the nine constituencies in West Bengal. She did not provide details.
Banerjee denied the accusation and said Modi’s government used security forces to intimidate her party’s supporters.
Prodeep Chakrabarty, a retired teacher in Kolkata, said Modi’s BJP was desperate to win some seats against Banerjee’s influential regional party.
“People are divided for many reasons. We have to wait for a final outcome to see who people are voting for. Things are not predictable like before,” he said.
Minorities in India, especially Muslims, who comprise about 14 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people, criticize Modi for his Hindu nationalist agenda. Modi’s party backed a bill that would make it easier to deport millions of Bangladeshis who have migrated to India since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. The bill, however, eases a path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees and Jains — non-Muslims — who came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan over decades.
Voters were also up early Sunday in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state, where election workers arranged for drinking water, shade and fans to cool them down.
“I straightaway came from my morning walk to cast my vote and was surprised to see enthusiasm among the voters,” said Ramesh Kumar Singh, who was among the first to vote. “There were long queues of people waiting patiently to cast their votes, which is a good sign for democracy.”
During the election campaign, Modi played up the threat of Pakistan, India’s Muslim-majority neighbor and archrival, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir on Feb. 14 that killed 40 Indian soldiers.
Congress and other opposition parties have challenged Modi over a high unemployment rate of 6.1% and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices.
Some of Modi’s boldest policy steps, such as the demonetization of high currency notes to curb black-market money, proved to be economically damaging. A haphazard implementation of “one nation, one tax” — a goods and services tax — also hit small and medium businesses.
Voter turnout in the first six rounds was approximately 66%, the Election Commission said, up from 58% in the last national election in 2014.
Pre-election media polls indicate that no party is likely to win anything close to a majority in Parliament, which has 543 seats. The BJP, which won a majority of 282 seats in 2014, may need some regional parties as allies to stay in power.
A Congress-led government would require a major electoral upset.