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Politics

Shootings highlight New Zealand's embrace of immigrants

Prime minister recommits to diversity in face of attack that killed dozens

SYDNEY -- After Friday's mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken out as a vocal supporter of diversity in a country where immigrants, refugees and Muslims make up a growing share of the population.

According to local media, children were among the 50 killed, including a 4-year-old boy from a Somali family that immigrated to New Zealand as refugees in the 1990s, and a 16-year-old whose family had arrived from Syria just a few months earlier. Other victims came from Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

New Zealand has welcomed a broad range of refugees and immigrants. About 1 million residents -- or a quarter of the population -- were foreign-born as of the 2013 census. Around 46,000 people reported being affiliated with Islam, making up just 1% of all New Zealanders but representing a 28% jump from 2006.

The alleged perpetrator, a 28-year-old Australian, specifically targeted Muslims. In a manifesto posted on social media shortly before the attack, he expressed white supremacist views and decried what he called an "invasion" by non-Europeans.

Muslims make up about 2.6% of the population in Australia, where multiculturalism has become a firmly rooted value since the end of the "White Australia policy" in the 1970s. Immigration has helped drive the country's famously long economic expansion, both by supplementing the labor pool and by expanding consumer markets.

Ardern called for unity in the aftermath of the shootings. She highlighted the broad range of ethnicities and languages in New Zealand, and asserted that "amongst that diversity, we share common values."

The prime minister met with members of the Muslim community Saturday in Christchurch, where the shootings took place. She wore a hijab, a traditional head covering worn by Muslim women.

"This is not the New Zealand we know," she said.

New Zealand's acceptance of immigrants made Friday's attack all the more shocking. Some in both Australia and New Zealand, frustrated with strained infrastructure and surging housing prices in the cities, have turned their resentment toward immigrants.

But Clive Williams, a terrorism expert and a professor at Australian National University, differentiated the alleged shooter's case from those of regular citizens pushing their governments to take action. The suspect's own biased views were strengthened through contact with the extreme right, and he made immigrants and Muslims into scapegoats, Williams said.

Ardern on Sunday denounced the attack as "the worst act of terrorism on our shores." She said the government will conduct an inquiry into the circumstances leading up to the incident, including the suspect's travel and social media use, to determine whether it could have been predicted or prevented.

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