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UN chief visits NZ mosques, says hate speech must be extinguished

Tuesday May 14, 2019

Guterres delivers a statement next to Al Noor mosque imam Gamal Fouda, right [Mark Baker/AP Photo]

Antonio Guterres visits Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch were 51 Muslims were massacred two months ago.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, has expressed his "support and admiration" for New Zealand's Muslim community as he visited the two mosques where 51 worshippers were massacred in March.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a self-avowed white supremacist, has been charged over the attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, the worst-ever mass shooting in New Zealand's modern history.

In comments made during his visit on Tuesday, Guterres called for greater efforts to "extinguish" hate speech that spreads like "wildfire" on social media and said he had ordered a UN team be established to develop a "global plan of action".

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"Hate speech is spreading and public discourse is being coarsened," Guterres said,

"Social media is being exploited as a platform for bigotry. We must all show solidarity in response to this dangerous upsurge in hatred," he added.

"Hate speech is spreading like wildfire in social media. We must extinguish it. There is no room for hate speech - online or offline."

Guterres spent about 30 minutes inside the Al Noor mosque talking to Muslim leaders and survivors of the attacks.

Outside the mosque, he told reporters that like many people around the world, he had been moved by the poignant stories of compassion and grace.

"I know there are no words to relieve the hurt and sorrow and pain," Guterres said. "But I wanted to come here personally to transmit love, support, and total and complete admiration."

Guterres then headed to the Linwood mosque where he laid a wreath and met survivors including Abdul Aziz, who is considered a hero for chasing the gunman and throwing a credit card machine and a discarded gun at him.

Aziz said he was honoured to meet the UN chief.

"To come here and share the pain with us, it means a lot," Aziz said.

Guterres also attended a climate alliance event while on his visit to several South Pacific countries primarily to highlight the problems of climate change. His trip comes in the run-up to the Climate Action Summit that he plans to convene in September in New York.

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