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Accounts emerge of heroism in New Zealand mosques — bodies to be released

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Accounts emerged on Sunday of heroic attempts to tackle a gunman who slaughtered 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand, as authorities prepared to begin releasing the bodies of victims to their families for burial.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday. Tarrant was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5 where police said he was likely to face more charges.

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Friday’s attack in the city of Christchurch, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labeled terrorism, was the worst ever peacetime mass killing in New Zealand.

Ardern also said she wanted to talk to Facebook, as footage of the attack on one of the mosques was broadcast live on Facebook, and a “manifesto” denouncing immigrants as “invaders” was posted online via links to related social media accounts minutes before the violence began.

Amid the shock, outrage and recriminations that have consumed New Zealand over the past two days, tales of heroism and self-sacrifice emerged.

Abdul Aziz, 48, was hailed for confronting the shooter at the second mosque and preventing more deaths.

Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, ran outside after the shooting started and picked up a shotgun that the gunman had dropped. The gun had no shells in it, he said.

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“I chased him,” Aziz said. “He sat in his car and with the shotgun in my hands, I threw it through his window like an arrow. He just swore at me and took off.”

Another man, Naeem Rashid from Pakistan, was seen on the gunman’s video confronting the shooter before he was killed, the BBC reported. Rashid’s 21-year-old son, Talha, was also killed.

The death toll climbed to 50 when police found another body at the Al Noor mosque, where more than 40 people died after a gunman burst in and opened fire on worshippers with a semi-automatic rifle with high-capacity magazines, driving to attack a second mosque.

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Police rammed the suspect’s vehicle and arrested him as he drove away from the second mosque in the suburb of Linwood.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the man was apprehended 36 minutes after police were alerted and he was the only person charged in connection with the shootings. Three people detained earlier were not involved, he said.

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‘INCOMPREHENSIBLE’

Huge piles of flowers were laid at sites near the mosques and crowds of people of all faiths gathered to pay respects. Some played guitar, sang and lit candles as darkness fell.

Members of a Maori motorbike gang performed a haka war-dance at one site.

Church services for the victims were held, including at Christchurch’s “Cardboard Cathedral”, a temporary structure built after a 2011 earthquake.

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But the priority for grieving family and friends on Sunday was laying their loved ones to rest. It is customary in Islam to bury the dead within 24 hours but no bodies have been released because of the investigation, police said.

Ardern said victims would be handed over to families from Sunday evening.

“It is likely, however, to be a small number to begin with,” she told a media briefing, adding that all should be returned by Wednesday.

Wearing a black scarf, Ardern hugged members of the Muslim community at a refugee center on Saturday, saying she would ensure freedom of religion.

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Thirty-four people were in Christchurch Hospital, with 12 in intensive care, while a child was moved to a children’s hospital in Auckland.

Greg Robertson, head of surgery at Christchurch Hospital said staff were used to gunshots and other severe injuries, but the scale and nature of the attacks was different.

“The magnitude of this is the thing that is the most significant issue for people. It’s just comprehending what is the incomprehensible.”

The youngest was a three year old boy, according to an unofficial list of the dead.

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Pakistan’s high commissioner said six citizens had been killed and three were missing. Five Indians were killed, its High Commission said.

GUN LAW ‘WILL CHANGE’

Tarrant did not have a criminal history and was not on any watchlists in New Zealand or Australia.

New Zealand starts to bury mosque attack victims

Ardern said a “manifesto” was emailed to more than 30 recipients including her office, nine minutes before the attack but it gave no location or specific details. She said her office sent it to parliamentary security two minutes after getting it.

In the manifesto, which was also posted online, Tarrant described himself as “Just a ordinary White man, 28 years old” who used profits from cryptocurrency trading to finance travels through Europe from 2016-2018.

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The shootings have raised new questions about violence being disseminated online. Facebook said it had removed 1.5 million videos of the attack in the first 24 hours, and it was also removing all edited versions, even those without graphic content.

Ardern told the briefing that she had been contacted by Facebook operations chief Sheryl Sandberg who had acknowledged what had happened.

“This is an issue that I will look to be discussing directly with Facebook,” Ardern said.

The violence has also shone a new light on gun control.

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Ardern said Tarrant was a licensed gun owner who allegedly used five weapons, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns, which had been modified. She said a ban on semi-automatic weapons would be considered.

“We cannot be deterred from the work that we need to do on our gun laws,” Ardern said. “They will change.”

Media has reported a rush to buy guns before any ban is brought in.

New Zealand has tried to tighten laws before but a strong gun lobby and culture of hunting has stymied efforts.

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There are an estimated 1.5 million firearms in New Zealand, which has a population of only 5 million, but it has had low levels of gun violence.


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Greta Thunberg slams ‘misleading’ climate pledges at chaotic UN summit

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Swedish activist Greta Thunberg on Wednesday accused wealthier nations of inventing ways to avoid slashing their greenhouse gas emissions, branding their climate action "misleading" at a summit in Madrid disrupted by clashes between youth activists and security.

The UN climate forum tasked with saving the world from runaway global warming has become an "opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition" to act on climate, the 16-year-old told delegates and observers to vigorous applause.

"Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action."

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The View’s audience goes wild after guest host Chris Christie gets schooled on impeachment

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New Jersey governor-turned-ABC News contributor Chris Christie filled in as guest co-host on "The View," and the audience went wild when his impeachment defense was picked apart.

The former Republican governor insisted that impeachment was fizzling because Democrats had so far failed to attract bipartisan support, which he said ultimately doomed the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

"We're at the point now where it was bipartisan," Christie said, before becoming distracted by some backstage noise. "But with Clinton, it wasn't bipartisan, so it didn't work."

Host Joy Behar said the situation was different with Clinton than Trump.

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Trump’s education secretary overrides department findings on defrauded student borrowers: report

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Although the Trump Administration has had a high turnover since 2017, one of the people who has remained is Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Trump’s education secretary, from 2017 to late 2019, has had more than her share of critics; some of them include college students, and a December 11 report by Cory Turner for NPR describes DeVos’ battle with recipients of student loans who say there were defrauded.

Turner reports, “These borrowers — more than 200,000 of them — say some for-profit colleges lied to them about their job prospects and the transferability of credits. They argue they were defrauded and that the Education Department should erase their federal student loan debt under a rule called ‘borrower defense.’”

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