Christchurch survivor tells remembrance service: ‘I choose peace’

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Farid Ahmed, one of the survivors, speaks during the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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Religious leaders take their seats ahead of the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks with relatives of victims of the mosque attacks at the national remembrance service at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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People cry as they sing the national anthem during the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
Updated 29 March 2019

Christchurch survivor tells remembrance service: ‘I choose peace’

  • Speakers honored the dead and those who survived the March 15 attacks,
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: A Maori lament echoed across Christchurch Friday as a survivor of the New Zealand mosque attacks told a national remembrance service he had forgiven the gunman responsible for the racist massacre that shocked the world.
Thousands attended the service in the grieving southern city, standing silently with heads bowed while the names of 50 people killed by a self-avowed white supremacist gunman were read out.
Speakers honored the dead and those who survived the March 15 attacks, including 22 people who remain in hospital, among them a critically injured four-year-old girl.
Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
Ardern, who has been widely hailed for her response to the tragedy and received a prolonged standing ovation when she took the stage, praised the way New Zealanders had embraced their devastated Muslim community since the attacks.
“Racism exists, but it is not welcome here,” she said.
“An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practice their faith or religion is not welcome here. Violence and extremism in all its forms is not welcome here.”
The hastily organized service was held amid tight security, with Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirming armed police from Australia were on site to assist their New Zealand counterparts.
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 — gave a powerful rendition of his hit song “Peace Train.”
But the most moving speech came from Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed as she rushed back into a mosque trying to rescue her disabled husband.
Sitting in his wheelchair before the assembled crowd, Ahmed said he forgave the accused gunman, Australian Brenton Tarrant.
“People ask me, ‘why do you forgive someone who has killed your beloved wife?’” he said.
“I can give so many answers... Allah says if we forgive one another he loves us.”
Echoing Ardern’s theme that extremism should not be allowed to breed extremism, Ahmed received a standing ovation when he said he chose peace over anger.
“I don’t want a heavy heart boiling like a volcano with anger, fury and rage — it burns itself and burns its surroundings,” he said.
“I want a heart full of love, care and mercy. This heart does not want any more lives to be lost, any other human to go through the pain I’ve gone through.
“That’s why I am choosing peace and I have forgiven.”
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said the atrocity was “an attack on us all.”
“Those actions were designed to divide us and tear us apart,” she said. “They have instead united us.”
Among the crowd, Azra Chida traveled from Auckland to attend the service, saying she lost two close friends 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.”


Sri Lanka turns former military air base into third international airport

Updated 18 October 2019

Sri Lanka turns former military air base into third international airport

  • President Sirisena termed the opening of Palaly Airport for commercial flights “a significant landmark of the development program commenced after the conclusion of the conflict.”

COLOMBO: The Palaly Airport, a former military air base, has been turned into Jaffna International Airport, the third gateway to the island.

The new airport was inaugurated by the island’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet ministers also witnessed the ceremony.

The refurbished airport, costing $13.8 million, has a 1,400-meter long runway to facilitate ATR 72 aircraft, which can carry 70 passengers. It will later be expanded to 3,500 meters to handle large passenger aircraft such as the Airbus A320 and A321.

Located approximately 16 km north of Jaffna, Palaly was a Sri Lanka Air Force base and a domestic airport. The airport was built by the British Royal Air Force during the WWII.

After independence, Palaly Airport was used as the second international airport of the country for flights to southern India before the civil war began, almost 40 years ago.

President Sirisena termed the opening of Palaly Airport for commercial flights “a significant landmark of the development program commenced after the conclusion of the conflict.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said the upgraded Jaffna International Airport marked a “turning point” in Sri Lankan aviation, which would be “an asset for the entire nation.”

“The airport will deploy regional airliners and be elevated to an Asian travel destination,” the premier said.

“The airport, which is expected to accommodate direct flights between Sri Lanka and India, will contribute toward promoting the tourism industry in the north. This will play an important role in the economic growth and overall development of the country,” he added.  

The service will be made available first for Indian destinations, and later for flights to Australia, China, Japan, the Middle East and some European cities.                                                      

Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga said Palaly airport was developed into Jaffna International Airport in a very short period of time.

“We were able to overcome the challenge successfully due to the sincere assistance we received from all institutes and stakeholders contributed to the development,” he said.

The minister said that in addition to Colombo and Jaffna international airports, three more airports in Sri Lanka will be upgraded to international airports, such as Ratmalana and Batticaloa.

“The opening of Jaffna airport for regional scheduled commercial passenger operations will undoubtedly enhance the quality of life of people in the area, with improved connectivity and accessibility that the airport brings to the region. It would also help reduce the current congestion at Bandaranaike International Airport and also eliminate the difficulties of the people in the north have in coming to Colombo Airport,” said H. M. C.Nimalsiri, director general of civil aviation.