About 20,000 people attended the National Remembrance Service Friday to remember the victims of the Christchurch shooting attacks. Photo by Martin Hunter/EPA-EFE
March 29 (UPI) -- Thousands gathered in New Zealand Friday to remember the 50 people killed by a gunman at a pair of mosques in Christchurch two weeks ago.
The service was attended by residents, relatives, politicians and other public figures. The names of all 50 victims were read at the memorial.
Security was tight at Hagley Park before and during the service, with hundreds of police officers. A helicopter circled the event and police commissioner Mike Bush called it one of the largest security operations in New Zealand history.
"Racism exists but it is not welcome here ... violence and extremism in all its forms is not welcome here," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. "Over the last two weeks, we have shown that. You have shown that."
Widower Farid Ahmed said he's forgiven the attacker.
"Those who control their anger and pardon their fellow human, Allah loves those who are good-doers," Ahmed said. "Allah says that if we forgive one another, he loves me, he loves us."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Bill Shorten were among 59 nations represented at the service.
Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ President Mustafa Farouk said Ardern and the Muslim community have "shown the world how to live with compassion.
"Let's continue to build a future of togetherness, of connectedness."
Several high schools closed for the service so students could attend. The memorial was put together by the Muslim community, the Christchurch City Council, central government and Ngai Tahu. It included performances by singer Yusuf Islam, previously known as Cat Stevens, Marlon Williams and several Kiwi performers.