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Posts tagged ‘Land of the White Cloud’

New Zealand embraces teddies to help make lockdown bear-able

April 02, 2020

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Some are perched in trees. Some are hanging upside down. Some are baking scones. Teddy bears are popping up in the unlikeliest of places as New Zealanders embrace an international movement in which people are placing the stuffed animals in their windows during coronavirus lockdowns to brighten the mood and give children a game to play by spotting the bears in their neighborhoods.

The inspiration comes from the children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. New Zealand last week began a four-week lockdown but people are still allowed outside to exercise if they keep a safe distance from each other. In other words, bear-spotting is okay.

Mother-of-two and part-time school administrator Deb Hoffman started the Facebook page “We’re Not Scared – NZ Bear Hunt” and also set up a website where more than 120,000 people have now put pins on an online map to show the location of their bears. “We’re not scared” is a repeated line in the book, which features a family overcoming a number of obstacles in their search for a bear.

Hoffman said she’s been taken aback by the huge response. She said some people are creating personalities for their bears by having them do a different activity each day. Hoffman said one woman wrote that the teddy bears were the only thing getting her through the isolation, after she had already been housebound for six weeks following surgery before the lockdown began.

“It’s a way for people to feel connected, and to contribute,” Hoffman said. “It’s really important at a time like this.” Hoffman said she’s getting some help to enhance her website so that people will soon be able to interact with the bears by giving them an emotion.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has even joined in, saying people should keep an eye on her window because they might spot a bear. In a grimly ironic twist, the author of the book is hospitalized with symptoms similar to COVID-19.

Rosen’s family said Tuesday that the 73-year-old writer was “poorly” but improving, having previously spent a night in intensive care. Rosen’s wife Emma-Louise Williams tweeted: “He has been able to eat today & will be getting a more comfortable oxygen mask soon. All good signs.”

She did not say whether Rosen had been diagnosed with the new coronavirus. In recent weeks, Rosen has described his illness on Twitter, wondering whether symptoms including fatigue and fever meant he had COVID-19 or a “heavy flu.”

New Zealand mosque gunman pleads guilty to murder, terrorism

March 26, 2020

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The man who committed the worst atrocity in New Zealand’s modern history when he slaughtered 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques unexpectedly pleaded guilty to all charges Thursday.

The attacks targeting people praying at the mosques a year ago shocked the nation and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. It also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman livestreamed his attack on Facebook, where it was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

The sudden turn in the case took survivors and relatives by surprise, and brought relief to people across New Zealand. Many had feared Australian white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant would try to use his trial as a platform to promote his views. He’d outlined those views in a 74-page manifesto he published online shortly before the attacks.

Tarrant, 29, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism at the Christchurch High Court. He had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges and his trial had been scheduled to start in June.

Tarrant is the first person to be found guilty of terrorism in New Zealand under laws passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. The change in plea came less than two weeks after New Zealanders commemorated those who died on the anniversary of the March 15, 2019, attacks.

“Honestly, I’m still trying to process what just happened,” said Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the attack on the Al Noor mosque. “I feel conflicted.” She said that on the one hand, she had wanted to find out more details about what happened at the trial but on the other hand was feeling relieved about not having to face the trauma of sitting through it.

Temel Atacocugu, who survived being shot nine times during the attack at Al Noor, said he was surprised by the turn of events and hoped the judge would set an example at the sentencing by imposing the harshest punishment in the country’s history and helping ensure nothing like it would happen again.

“I’m happy that he has accepted that he is guilty,” Atacocugu said. ,Judge Cameron Mander has not yet set a sentencing date. Tarrant faces life imprisonment, with the judge having some discretion in deciding the minimum number of years Tarrant must serve before becoming eligible for parole.

The change in plea came at a hastily arranged court hearing at a time that New Zealand was beginning a four-week lockdown to try and combat the new coronavirus. The lockdown meant Tarrant appeared in the court via video link from his jail cell in Auckland and only a handful of people were allowed inside the courtroom, including the imams from the two mosques that were attacked.

Mander said it was unfortunate the lockdown prevented victims and family members from being able to attend the hearing but the imams were helping to represent them. He said he wanted to quickly move ahead with the hearing, especially with the COVID-19 response threatening delays to the court schedule.

Tarrant, who was wearing a gray prison sweater, showed little emotion as he pleaded guilty. He didn’t indicate why he had changed his pleas, and his lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was praised around the world for her empathetic response to the Muslim community after the attacks, said it was “deeply disappointing” the victims didn’t get to attend the hearing.

But she said there was “a certain sense of relief that the whole nation, but particularly our Muslim community, are being spared from a trial that could have otherwise acted as a platform.” Tarrant moved to New Zealand in 2017 and kept a low profile in the university city of Dunedin. He frequented a gym, practiced shooting at a rifle club range and built up an arsenal of weapons. He didn’t appear to be employed, and said in some online posts that he’d inherited a significant amount of money when his father died.

Tarrant appeared to have a fascination with religious conflicts in Europe and the Balkans, and visited a number of sites in Eastern Europe in the years before he committed the massacre. After his attack at the second mosque, Tarrant was driving, possibly to carry out a shooting at a third mosque, when two police officers rammed his car off the road, dragged him out and arrested him.

1 year later, New Zealand mosque attacks alter many lives

March 13, 2020

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Fifty-one people were killed and dozens more injured when a lone gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch last year. New Zealanders will commemorate those who died on the anniversary of the mass killing Sunday. Three people whose lives were forever altered that day say it has prompted changes in their career aspirations, living situations and in the way that others perceive them.

Aya Al-Umari

Aya’s older brother Hussein, 35, was killed in the attack at the Al Noor mosque

When she first heard there had been a shooting at the mosque, Aya Al-Umari rushed to her brother’s house and then to the Christchurch Hospital, hoping to find out something, anything, about him. She was confronted with an overwhelming scene. Children were crying. Adults were covered with blood. Nothing was comprehensible. She spotted a policewoman, who calmed her down, told her to go home and promised to update her hourly.

The kindness of that officer and other officers has inspired Al-Umari to consider a career change. Currently a credit analyst at a bank, she hopes to join the police force and work on financial crimes.

“I think, going through this, it really shifts your perspective in life. And by life, it’s everything from A to Z,” she says. “So from family time, going about your day, to career. All of these have shifted.”

These days, she is learning self-defense techniques through martial arts courses and says no matter how busy she finds herself, she always makes sure to spend time with her parents. And she never stops thinking about Hussein, who was her only sibling.

She carries a photo of the two of them and takes selfies of it when she visits different places around the world, like when she completed the hajj pilgrimage in August. She was one of 200 survivors and relatives from the Christchurch attacks who traveled to Saudi Arabia as guests of King Salman.

“Every day I feel like Hussein is with me,” she says. “Any decisions that I make, I just think about, OK, what would Hussein do in this situation?” Every time that I visit him in the cemetery, he’s definitely there.”

Al-Umari, 34, has also been reflecting on the casual racism she experienced in New Zealand growing up. She first noticed it after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. “I remember at school I would feel like I was the one being blamed for what’s happened,” she says. “The Muslims were being tainted by one brush.”

She was later teased by her friends, called names. Now she thinks that’s how it all starts — a little joke, a comment that doesn’t get challenged. “I feel I was also responsible in that I did not stand up for myself,” she says. “I would laugh it off, whereas the right thing to do would have been like, ‘It’s not funny. How would you feel if I said the same things to you?’”

Al-Umari is steeling herself for the June trial of the man accused of the shooting, 29-year-old Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant. He has been charged with terrorism, murder and attempted murder and faces life imprisonment if found guilty.

Al-Umari remembers the first time she saw him in court, where he appeared via video-link from his maximum-security jail cell. “It felt like my organs had just dropped to the floor,” she says. She’s been trying to heal her spirit and keep the memory of Hussein alive by writing about her experiences online, by overcoming prejudice with compassion.

“Words can be powerful. Words can be destructive,” she says. “But they can also be very restorative as well.”

Len Peneha

Len lived next door to the Al Noor mosque and helped some worshipers escape

On March 15 last year, Len Peneha had driven home to pick up his daughter Jasmine when he noticed a man maneuvering a car at the end of their long driveway and then carry something into the mosque.

“We started hearing these noises. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,” he says. He wondered if it was construction scaffolding falling over. But then people began running everywhere, and Peneha figured out what was happening. He and his daughter ran inside. Jasmine called the police and Peneha came back out and helped people climb over the mosque’s back fence and hide in his apartment as the shooter continued his massacre.

The images from that day will never leave Peneha, 54. He saw the gunman shoot a woman at point-blank range at the end of the driveway, and then drive over her body. After the gunman left, Peneha went to the mosque to help and saw bodies strewn in the foyer.

“I struggled sleeping for months after that. My brain was still on high alert,” he says. At night he would hear the slightest noise from down the street or the words from a conversation in another building. Every time he drove down his driveway he would see the image of the woman’s body lying across it. He had frequent panic attacks and sought counseling.

“The sadness that it brought affected me quite a lot. And it still does today,” he says. After months of anxiety, Peneha decided he needed to move away from the area, and he found a new apartment. Shifting has helped calm his mind, he says, although he still has days when he feels down and moments when he struggles.

Three of the people he helped escape that day have since come back to say thanks. They credit Peneha with saving their lives. “To be honest, in my mind, they saved themselves first, by actually getting out of there alive,” Peneha says. “I helped them climb over the fence, and I sheltered them and stopped them from doing anything stupid to get themselves killed. And maybe, in that respect, I did help save their lives.”

Peneha says the gunman seems to think he’s superior to other people, and that’s not the way the world should work. Peneha admires the sentiments from some the survivors of the Al Noor shooting, including Farid Ahmed, who has said he forgives the attacker.

“I can’t forgive him, like Farid has and the Muslim community has,” Peneha says. “I don’t find I have any compassion for him at all. What he did was abhorrent. Callous.”

Adib Khanafer

Adib, a vascular surgeon, helped save the life of a 4-year-old girl who was shot at the Al Noor mosque

Adib Khanafer didn’t know anything about the mosque attacks when he was urgently called to the operating theater at the Christchurch Hospital to work on 4-year-old Alen Alsati. “They said there’s a major bleed, so I scrubbed in,” he says. “It was very emotional at the beginning to see such horrific injuries. I did what I’m best at doing: repairing vessels.”

The girl spent weeks at an Auckland children’s hospital recovering. About seven months after the attacks, Khanafer was invited by the family to join them for an authentic Palestinian dinner. He says Alen was vibrant and was even teasing his own daughter.

“I don’t have any concern about Alen. I think she’s going to be a good, tough girl,” he says. “I told her that you need to be a surgeon, and she said, ‘No, I want to be a policewoman.’ And I said ‘OK, that’s disappointing, but we’ll work on it, we’ll work on it.’”

He says Alen has started school and he’s confident she’ll fully recover. Khanafer, 52, says he’s noticed a change in how people treat him and his wife, who are both Muslim. Before the attacks, he says, many people in Christchurch didn’t know much about Islam or the Muslim culture and were sometimes guarded around the couple. He says many people have since taken the time to read and inform themselves, and he’s noticed some big changes.

“People now understand there’s a different culture, there’s a different religion, there’s a different behavior,” he says. “So definitely, we’ve seen more acceptance. Particularly to people like my wife, who wears the Islamic hijab.”

He says bullet wounds can do serious damage to soft tissue and nerves, and some of the dozens who were injured in the attacks will take a long time to heal. Some may never be able to play sports with their kids or return to the way they were. But he says there are also stories of remarkable recoveries.

“The human body is a pretty good machine,” he says. “Only time will tell.”

Increased activity on New Zealand volcano stymies recovery

December 11, 2019

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (AP) — Experts said geothermal activity on a New Zealand volcanic island increased significantly on Wednesday, dealing a blow to relatives waiting for crews to recover the bodies that remain there following a deadly eruption two days earlier.

Volcanic tremors rose in the morning, accompanied by an increase in the amount of steam and mud being released at White Island, the GeoNet seismic monitoring agency said. “We interpret these signals as evidence of continued high gas pressures within the volcano,” the agency said. “The situation remains highly uncertain as to future activity. Eruptions in the next 24 hours are still likely to occur.”

Six deaths were confirmed after Monday’s eruption. Five people died at the time of the blast or soon after, while a sixth person died Tuesday night at an Auckland hospital. Another eight people are believed to have died, with their bodies remaining on the ash-covered island for now. And 30 people remain hospitalized, including 25 in critical condition. Many of the injured suffered severe burns.

Bruce Bird, an acting assistant police commissioner, said they were monitoring the situation hour by hour. “Safety for our staff is a huge priority for us,” Bird said. “And we’ve got to get this right.”

Bird said they had deployed a drone over the island to measure gas levels after strong winds had thwarted those attempts on Tuesday. But helicopter pilot Mark Law said the delay was hard to understand and that if he was making the decision, he would leave immediately.

“It would take 20 minutes to get out there. We know where they are,” he said, referring to the bodies. “Then we could bring them home.” Survivors from the Monday eruption ran into the sea to escape the scalding steam and ash and emerged covered in burns, said those who first helped them.

The tragedy will have an ongoing effect on the town of Whakatane, which road signs tout as the gateway to White Island. As well as being an important tourist draw for the 20,000 people who live here, the volcano has an almost mystical significance, its regular puffing a feature of the landscape.

Whether the island will ever host tourists again remains uncertain after the horrific tragedy that unfolded when the volcano exploded a little after 2 p.m. Monday. Geoff Hopkins was in a boat offshore after visiting the island with his daughter, the tour a 50th birthday present for him. He told the New Zealand Herald the eruption at first looked beautiful but quickly turned menacing.

As injured people were transported onto their boat screaming in pain, Hopkins and his daughter Lillani poured fresh water onto them, cut them out of their clothes and tried to keep them calm. He told the Herald they were horrifically burned on their exposed skin and faces, even under their clothes.

In all, police believe there were 47 visitors on the island at the time. They say 24 were Australian, nine were American and five were New Zealanders. Others were from Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia. Many were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

The first confirmed death was of a local man, Hayden Marshall-Inman, a guide who had shown tourists around the island. Former Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said Marshall-Inman was a keen fisherman and well-liked. He was so kind, Bonne said, that he would often leave extra money at the grocery store for those he knew were struggling to pay.

Many people were left questioning why tourists were still allowed to visit the island after seismic monitoring experts raised the volcano’s alert level last month. “These questions must be asked, and they must be answered,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Parliament.

New Zealand’s Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims said Tuesday that police were opening a criminal investigation into the deaths that would accompany an investigation by health and safety regulators.

But hours later, police put out a statement saying that while they were investigating the deaths on behalf of the coroner, “To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 11 Australians are unaccounted for and 13 were hospitalized. Three Australians were suspected to be among the initial five confirmed dead, he told reporters in Sydney. “I fear there is worse news to come,” Morrison said.

Relatives of a newlywed American couple say the husband and wife were severely burned. Barbara Barham told The Washington Post that her daughter Lauren Urey, 32, and son-in-law Matthew Urey, 36, from Richmond, Virginia, were on a honeymoon trip.

White Island, also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari, is the tip of an undersea volcano about 50 kilometers (30 kilometers) off New Zealand’s main North Island. New Zealand’s GeoNet seismic monitoring agency had raised the volcano’s alert level on Nov. 18 from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption, noting an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma. It also said volcanic tremors had increased from weak to moderate strength. It raised the alert level to 4 for a time after Monday’s eruption but lowered it to 3 as the activity subsided.

At least 10 people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur. Part of a crater wall collapsed, and a landslide destroyed the miners’ village and the mine itself. The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953. Daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit every year.

“Tourism has been a growing market, and White Island has been an anchor for that,” Bonne said. “It’s something unique that pulls people from all around the world.” He said it was sad to think that might all now come to a stop.

Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

New Zealand gun owners turn over their weapons for money

July 13, 2019

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Dozens of Christchurch gun owners on Saturday handed over their weapons in exchange for money, in the first of more than 250 planned buyback events around New Zealand after the government outlawed many types of semi-automatics.

Police said they paid more than 430,000 New Zealand dollars ($288,000) to 169 gun owners during the event. The money was paid directly into the bank accounts of gun owners. New Zealand lawmakers in April rushed through new legislation to ban so-called military-style weapons after a lone gunman killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques in March.

The government has set aside more than NZ$200 million to buy back weapons such as AR-15 style rifles, although many gun owners remain unhappy with the compensation on offer. Under an amnesty, gun owners have until December to turn over their now-banned weapons.

Police said at least 14,000 guns around the country are banned under the new legislation. There are an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million guns in New Zealand and 250,000 licensed gun owners. Under the buyback scheme, gun owners are compensated between 25% and 95% of the pre-tax price of a new gun, depending on the condition of their weapon.

People who own guns that are not banned under the new laws can also turn over their weapons during the amnesty, although they won’t get any compensation. Police said a half-dozen such weapons were turned in during the Christchurch event.

Police are using hydraulic machines to crush the gun barrels and firing mechanisms of the weapons that are handed in, rendering them inoperable, before disposing of them. Mike Johnson, an acting district police commander, said the Christchurch buyback had been a success and the attitude of gun owners “outstanding.”

Police Minister Stuart Nash said the results from the first collection were very encouraging. “Many of those who handed over firearms commented how easy the process is, how the prices are fair, and how police made the whole event go smoothly,” Nash said in a statement.

But Nicole McKee, the secretary of the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, said the government was shortchanging gun owners by trying to complete the buyback on the cheap. She said gun owners were forced to rely on police assessments of the condition of their guns and weren’t getting paid anything for the thousands of dollars they had spent on tax as well as certain accessories and ammunition.

“They do want to abide by the new laws but they have no incentive and they’re having fingers pointed at them and are being treated like criminals,” McKee said. “They’re angry at the way they’re being treated.”

The council has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money to fight against possible further government-imposed gun restrictions. McKee, who declined to say how much money they had raised, said they hadn’t received any money from the U.S. National Rifle Association as far as she was aware.

She said the group wasn’t in communication with the NRA, other than receiving a note of sympathy from the U.S. organization after the March attacks. Hera Cook, a public health researcher who co-founded the group Gun Control NZ after the March attacks, said that before the massacre, most New Zealanders had no clue how easy it was to get hold of weapons capable of being used for mass killings.

She said she hopes the government enacts further gun control measures, including creating a register of guns and introducing shorter license periods for gun owners. She said some of the gun owners complaints about getting short-changed or treated badly appeared to have some merit, and that “wasn’t a good look” for the government.

Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist, has pleaded not guilty to terrorism, murder and attempted murder charges following the March attacks. He remains in jail ahead of his trial, which has been scheduled for next May.

Prince William meets New Zealand mosque attack responders

April 25, 2019

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Britain’s Prince William on Thursday met with some of the police officers and medics who were the first to respond to last month’s mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Duke of Cambridge arrived in Christchurch in the afternoon after earlier attending an Anzac Day service in Auckland alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. At the service, the prince laid a wreath of red and white flowers on behalf of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

William is on a two-day trip to New Zealand and plans to meet later with survivors of the mosque attacks in which 50 people were killed and 50 others wounded. New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters after the meeting with first responders that the prince had been very supportive and had wanted to make sure the officers and medics were looking after themselves.

Bush said the prince told staff that “A good friend doesn’t pick up the phone when people are in need. You travel to their place and you put your arms around them.” Anzac Day is a memorial holiday on the anniversary of New Zealand and Australian soldiers, known as Anzacs, landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. More than 10,000 soldiers from the two countries were killed during that World War I campaign in what is now Turkey.

On Friday, William will visit the two mosques where the massacres took place March 15.

Major Threats to New Zealand’s Environment Highlighted in Government Report

Apr. 18, 2019

By Jordan Davidson

New Zealand’s pristine image as a haven of untouched forests and landscapes was tarnished this week by a brand new government report. The Environment Aotearoa 2019 painted a bleak image of the island nation’s environment and its future prospects.

The report, which was put out by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, is a follow-up to a 2015 report. While stopping short of making explicit suggestions, it “provides evidence to enable an open and honest conversation about what we have, what we are at risk of losing, and where we can make changes,” according to the report’s summary.

It found that New Zealand’s native plant and animal life has been decimated by invasive species, with 75 animal and plant species having vanished since humans settled the islands. The risk of extinction has worsened for 86 species in the last 15 years, while only improving for 26 species over the last decade.

The numbers in the report tell a dark picture. Almost 4,000 of New Zealand’s native species are currently threatened with or at risk of extinction. Marine, freshwater and land ecosystems all have species at risk: 90 percent of seabirds, 76 percent of freshwater fish, 84 percent of reptiles and 46 percent of plants are currently endangered or on the precipice of extinction, according to the report.

“New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than nearly any other country,” said Kevin Hague from the conservation group Forest and Bird to The Guardian. “Four thousand of our native species are in trouble … from rampant dairy conversions to destructive seabed trawling – [we] are irreversibly harming our natural world.”

The report highlights the dairy industry as particularly problematic since maintaining a herd is land-intensive. The report found that converting land to pasture use contributed to nearly 173,000 acres of natural vegetation loss since 1996 and nearly 2,500 acres of wetland loss since 2001.

“It is undeniable that the dairy industry deserves the title of the dirtiest industry in New Zealand, and urgent action is required,” Greenpeace senior campaign and political advisor, Steve Abel said, New Zealand based Newshub reported.

“To turn this around, the Government must institute policies that will lead to land use change, get rid of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, dramatically reduce cow numbers, and invest millions into regenerative farming.”

The rapid increase in dairy farming has wreaked havoc on the country’s freshwater. The report found that over 82 percent of river water near farmlands was unsuitable for swimming due to pathogens, which have also threatened three-fourths of New Zealand’s freshwater fish with extinction.

“The biggest degradations in New Zealand’s environment in recent years have been caused by the dairy industry,” said Abel to Newshub. “As a nation reliant on an international reputation of being clean and green, we’re failing pretty epically.”

Source: EcoWatch.


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