Wellington (Agencies): New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Kensington Palace on Thursday announced that Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, will visit New Zealand next month to honour victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings that claimed 50 lives.
PM Ardern, who will attend a national remembrance service for the victims on Friday, said William, the Duke of Cambridge, would represent his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, the official head of state in the former British colony. “The visit will be another sign that this nation will always stand with those affected by the terror attacks, and the people of Christchurch,” she said in a statement.
The Royals have previously expressed their sympathies at the shooting attacks on two Christchurch mosques earlier this month by a self-avowed white supremacist. Kensington Palace said the visit, which will take place in late April, came at Ardern’s request.
“The Duke will meet with those affected by the attack and will pay tribute to the extraordinary compassion and solidarity that the people of New Zealand have displayed in recent weeks,” it said in a statement.
Ardern said William had a strong connection with Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region after visiting the South Island city in the wake of a devastating 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people.
William made a two-day visit to Christchurch following the quake to attend a memorial service. He and his wife Kate also visited the city in 2014. After the mosque attacks, William, Kate, Prince Harry and wife Meghan sent a message that ended “Kia kaha”, meaning “be strong” in Maori.
“No person should ever have to fear attending a sacred place of worship,” they said. “This senseless attack is an affront to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand and the broader Muslim community. It is a horrifying assault on a way of life that embodies decency, community, and friendship.”
Ardern has led efforts to support New Zealand’s small, tightly-knit Muslim community in the wake of the attack. As well as symbolic gestures such as donning a headscarf while comforting survivors, she has also moved to tighten gun laws and called for social media giants to do more to combat hate speech.
She has described Friday’s remembrance service as a chance for New Zealanders to again show their inclusive values. But she said she was mindful that the trauma of New Zealand’s worst mass shooting would last long after this week’s service and William’s visit was a sign that support was ongoing.
“I’m sure all New Zealanders, but especially the Muslim community of Christchurch, will appreciate seeing the compassion and support, that has been so tangibly demonstrated since the attack, continue into the future,” she said.