3,000 People March in New Zealand as Mosques Reopen

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  • People attend the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. As Christchurch geared up for prayers at a park in front of the Al Noor mosque, where most of the victims were killed last week, women in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch posted pictures of themselves in headscarves, some with children in headscarves, too. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

    People attend the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. As Christchurch geared up for prayers at a park in front of the Al Noor mosque, where most of the victims were killed last week, women in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch posted pictures of themselves in headscarves, some with children in headscarves, too. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

    TEMPO.COChristchurch - About 3,000 people walked through Christchurch in a 'march for love' early on Saturday, honoring the 50 worshippers massacred in the New Zealand city a week ago, as the mosques where the shooting took place reopened for prayers.

    Carrying placards with signs such as, "He wanted to divide us, he only made us stronger", "Muslims welcome, racists not", and "Kia Kaha" - Maori for 'stay strong', people walked mostly in silence or softly sang a Maori hymn of peace.

    "We feel like hate has brought a lot of darkness at times like this and love is the strongest cure to light the city out of that darkness," said Manaia Butler, 16, one of the student organizers of the march.

    With armed police on site, the Al Noor mosque, where more than 40 of the victims were killed by a suspected white supremacist, reopened on Saturday. Police said they were reopening the nearby Linwood mosque as well.

    "It is the place where we pray, where we meet, we'll be back, yeah," Ashif Shaikh told reporters outside the Al Noor mosque. He said he was there on the day of the shooting in which two of his housemates were killed.

    Most victims of the country's worst mass shooting were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

    Read: New Zealand Women Don Headscarves to Support Muslims 

    At Saturday's march security was heavy, with dozens of armed police officers and buses parked sideways across city streets to close them off for the march.

    Shila Nair, a migrant from India who works for a migrant advocacy group called Shakti, traveled from Auckland to take part in the march.

    "The support gives us hope and optimism that migrant and refugee communities in this country can have a level playing field," she said.

    "We appreciate the solidarity, but it must be carried on. It cannot be allowed to fizzle out. This is how social change happens."

    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who swiftly denounced the shooting as terrorism and has participated in many of the tributes and funerals for the victims, has announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles, some of the guns used by the shooter.

    Ardern and New Zealand have been widely praised for the outpouring of empathy and unity and the response to the attacks. Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum thanked her on Twitter late on Friday.

    "Thank you @jacindaardern and New Zealand for your sincere empathy and support that has won the respect of 1.5 billion Muslims after the terrorist attack that shook the Muslim community around the world," he said on Twitter.

    Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand's 4.8-million population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.

    On Friday the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast nationwide on television and radio and about 20,000 people attended a prayer service in the park opposite Al Noor mosque in a show of solidarity.

    Many women have also donned headscarves to show their support.

    In Mecca, Islam's holiest site, a special prayer was held after the Friday sermon for the victims of the attack, according to the Saudi news website Sabq.

    REUTERS