First funerals for NZ shooting victims

Body of a victim of the mosque attacks arrives during the burial ceremony at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019Image copyright

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The burials have been delayed because of the identification process

The first funerals are taking place for victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings that left 50 people dead.

Volunteers have descended on Christchurch to assist with the burial process and support victims’ families.

Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be buried as soon as possible, but the burials have been delayed by the scale of the identification process.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a self-described white supremacist, has been charged with murder.

Christchurch city officials issued strict guidance to the media ahead of Wednesday’s funerals and requested that the families be left alone.

“The body will be brought on site, taken to a private marquee that has been set up as a family area,” a council spokeswoman said.

“After a short time for prayers, family and friends will carry the body to the grave site where it will be laid to rest,” she added.

What are the latest developments?

Police on Wednesday named six of the victims of the shootings at the Al Noor mosque. Commissioner Mike Bush said 21 bodies had been formally identified and released to families. All 50 post-mortem examinations were complete, police said.

But some families expressed frustration with the delayed identification process. Mohamed Safi, 23, whose father Matiullah Safi died at the Al Noor mosque, complained about the lack of information.

He told AFP news agency: “They are just saying they are doing their procedures… Why do I not know what you are going through to identify the body?”

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Media captionVictim’s mother: ‘My son tried to take the gun from him’

In a statement on Tuesday, the police said: “[We] are acutely aware of frustrations by families associated with the length of time required for the identification process following Friday’s terror attack.

“We are doing all we can to undertake this work as quickly as possible and return the victims to their loved ones.”

New Zealand’s immigration service said it was processing visas for the families of the victims seeking to come from abroad to attend funerals.

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Media captionThe New Zealand church-goers rallying to help mosque attack victims

New Zealanders hand in guns

New Zealanders have begun handing in weapons, following an appeal by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton, posted on Twitter that he had given his semi-automatic rifle to police to be destroyed.

His post drew a wave of abusive messages to his Facebook page from many gun owners, particularly in the US where the pro-gun lobby is particularly strong.

New Zealand police said they were still gathering information on how many weapons had been handed in, Radio New Zealand reported.

Ms Ardern has announced that the nation’s gun laws will be reformed in the wake of the attack. Details of the plans are expected within days.

The country’s hunting lobby on Tuesday said it backed reforms, calling for a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

On Wednesday, Ms Ardern visited Cashmere High School, which lost pupils Sayyad Milne and Hamza Mustafa, and former student Tariq Omar, in the attack.

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Jacinda Ardern received a hug from a student when she visited Cashmere High School

She asked students to help her rid New Zealand of racism and reiterated her call “never to mention the perpetrator’s name… never remember him for what he did”.

School Principal Mark Wilson said the impact of the attack had been “particularly cruel and tough” for pupils, staff and parents.

Why have volunteers travelled to Christchurch?

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Media captionNew Zealand attack: How young people responded to the massacre

The bodies of some of the victims were being washed and prepared in a Muslim ritual process on Tuesday, partly with the help of volunteers flown in from overseas.

Javed Dadabhai, a volunteer from Auckland, told AFP that the scale of the attack inspired him to help.

“Christchurch is a small community, so… when you see a loss of 50 people, you really need to come down and help in whichever you can,” he said.

A number of volunteers have also been visiting a family support centre near the Al Noor Mosque where the attack happened.

“This is a hard time but we have to be strong and faithful and believe that we are going to overcome this,” volunteer Mohammed Bilal told AFP.

He added: “People come here to help each other and do something good for our society.”

What has the prime minister said?

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Media captionJacinda Ardern told parliament she would never use the Christchurch gunman’s name

Ms Ardern addressed a special meeting in parliament on Tuesday, where she vowed never to say the name of the gunman.

“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety – that is why you will never hear me mention his name,” she said in an emotional address.

Ms Ardern assured MPs that the attacker would “face the full force of the law”.

The prime minister also called on social media platforms to do more to combat terror, after the gunman in Christchurch live-streamed his attack on Facebook.

Victims of the Christchurch shootings

Fifty people lost their lives in the shootings at new mosques in the city.

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