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Christchurch shootings: First funerals for victims of mosque attacks

The burials have been delayed because of the identification process

A father and son from Syria have been buried in the first funerals for those killed in the New Zealand mosque shootings that left 50 people dead.

Khaled Mustafa, 44, and Hamza, 16, arrived as refugees to New Zealand last year.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at a cemetery near the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, one of two places of worship targeted last Friday.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder.

Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be buried as soon as possible, but the burials have been delayed by the scale of the identification process.

Christchurch city officials issued strict guidance to the media ahead of Wednesday's funerals and requested that the families be left alone.

"The body will be brought on site, taken to a private marquee that has been set up as a family area," a council spokeswoman said.

"After a short time for prayers, family and friends will carry the body to the grave site where it will be laid to rest," she added.

All bodies to be released on Wednesday

Police on Wednesday named six of the victims of the shootings at the Al Noor mosque and hoped to release all 50 bodies to the families by the end of the day. All post-mortem examinations were complete, police said.

Yet some families expressed frustration with the delayed identification process. Mohamed Safi, 23, whose father Matiullah Safi died at the Al Noor mosque, complained about the lack of information.

He told AFP: "They are just saying they are doing their procedures... Why do I not know what you are going through to identify the body?"

Police Commissioner Mike Bush on Wednesday said authorities had to prove the cause of death to establish for the courts to treat it as murder.

"You cannot convict for murder without that cause of death," he said. "So this is a very comprehensive process that must be completed to the highest standard."

New Zealand's immigration service said it was processing visas for the families of the victims seeking to come from abroad to attend funerals.

Speaking on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there would be two minutes of silence on Friday which is the Muslim day of prayer and will mark one week since the shooting.

There will also a broadcast of the Islamic call to prayer on national TV and radio on Friday.

New Zealanders hand in guns

Following an appeal by Jacinda Ardern, some New Zealanders have begun handing in weapons.

John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton, posted on Twitter he had given his semi-automatic rifle to police to be destroyed.

His post drew a lot of support but also a wave of abusive messages to his Facebook page from many gun owners, particularly in the US where the pro-gun lobby is particularly strong.

New Zealand police said they were still gathering information on how many weapons had been handed in, Radio New Zealand reported.

Ms Ardern on Monday announced the nation's gun laws would be reformed in the wake of the attack. Details of the plans are expected within days.

The country's hunting lobby on Tuesday said it backed reforms, calling for a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

In her Wednesday press conference she said "we have a large number of loopholes in our laws. Many New Zealanders would be astounded to know you can access military style weapons."

On Wednesday, Ms Ardern visited Cashmere High School, which lost pupils Sayyad Milne and Hamza Mustafa, and former student Tariq Omar, in the attack.

She asked students to help her rid New Zealand of racism and reiterated her call "never to mention the perpetrator's name... never remember him for what he did".

School Principal Mark Wilson said the impact of the attack had been "particularly cruel and tough" for pupils, staff and parents.

Jacinda Ardern received a hug from a student when she visited Cashmere High School

-- Courtesy of BBC News

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