WELLINGTON, (AFP) – Armed police will patrol Anzac Day services across New Zealand Thursday in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, as thousands honour the country’s war dead and Britain’s Prince William arrives on a visit.
Frontline officers have historically been unarmed in New Zealand, although this policy was changed following last month’s shootings that left 50 worshippers dead until the terrorism threat level was lowered last week.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there are no specific security threats for Thursday’s memorial services. Still, the number of Anzac services in Auckland has been reduced to avoid overstretching security forces.
Britain’s Prince William will arrive in New Zealand on Thursday, when local media say he is likely to make an appearance at an Anzac service in Auckland, which is expected to draw a crowd of around 20,000.
He will also pay his respects to those affected by the mosque attacks during the visit.
Anzac Day marks the April 25, 1915 landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli on the Turkish peninsula in an ill-fated WWI campaign against the German-backed Ottoman forces.
It left more than 10,000 Australian and New Zealand servicemen dead and failed in its military objectives, but gave rise to commemorations of the courage and close friendship that bind the two countries.
Graham Gibson, president of veterans group the Auckland Returned Services Association said it was a shame some services had been cancelled.
“Maybe things next year will get back to normal but it doesn’t hurt to take certain precautions and we are all geared up for it and it is going to be a great day,” he said.
Tensions were raised on Tuesday when a Sri Lankan minister said preliminary investigations had found that the Easter Sunday bombings, which left more than 300 dead, were “in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch.”
However, Ardern said she had no intelligence reports to back that claim and argued her country is not a haven for terrorism.
“New Zealand’s position remains utterly consistent. We stand opposed to all forms of extreme violence, all forms of terrorism and we’ve made that very clear.”
Her government also received assurances from Turkish authorities that New Zealanders and Australians attending Anzac commemorations at Gallipoli would not be in danger, following hot-tempered remarks from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Out campaigning last month, the Turkish leader said Australians and New Zealanders who threaten Turkey would be “sent back in coffins” like their grandfathers.
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