Upstart party turns cannabis into key Israeli election issue

By ARON HELLER Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Cinderella story of Israel’s current election campaign is a fringe party led by an ultranationalist libertarian with a criminal record who vows to legalize marijuana, and seems to diverge dramatically from the long list of quirky candidates of the past who have drawn attention to their improbable runs for parliament.
For starters, Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party has a real shot of getting elected next month and could even emerge as a kingmaker in a tightly contested race for prime minister. But his seemingly liberal civic platform, which has generated a strong hipster following, could be masking a far more polarizing agenda.
Feiglin, who got pushed out of the ruling Likud party four years ago for his extreme right-wing positions, has taken the campaign by storm, putting cannabis high on the national agenda and forcing the front-runners to take a stand on the issue. He’s also one of the few party leaders to refrain from endorsing either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his top challenger, retired military chief Benny Gantz.
“We are in nobody’s pocket,” Feiglin told Israel’s Army Radio recently. “Legalization is the condition for us joining any government.”
The message seems to be catching on, ironically, in the first election in 20 years that the single-issue Green Leaf party has refrained from running. In response to what has been dubbed the “Feiglin effect,” Netanyahu this week boasted about increasing the availability of medical cannabis and approving its export, making Israel just the third nation in the world to do so. He also promised to “examine” the issue of legalization for recreational use.
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay said he was in favor of legalizing, calling cannabis less dangerous than alcohol. In a radio interview, he then disclosed he had smoked it himself in the past. And the dovish Meretz party, seeking to reclaim what would seem to be its natural electorate, issued a reminder that it was the first party in parliament to promote the issue while others were now merely catching up.
But Feiglin, an observant, Jewish West Bank settler who doesn’t smoke marijuana himself, has been the one cashing in, finding an unlikely audience among urban youngsters drawn to his message of personal freedom and domestic policies, which, besides legalization, include an anti-labor union platform that promotes school vouchers, animal rights and free market economics.
With his skullcap, trim beard and small round-frame glasses, the 56-year-old Feiglin hardly cuts the image of an iconoclast. But he’s become an internet sensation with viral animated online hipster memes portraying him as a cool gangster with sunglasses and a joint hanging from his lips.
It’s a stunning makeover for a man who first made his name in Israel for orchestrating raucous protests against the Oslo Peace accords in the early 1990s. A recent cartoon in the Maariv daily poked fun at the irony of his drawing liberal supporters. Cast as the pied piper, Feiglin is shown leading a slew of smiling, glassy-eyed voters following the trail of smoke from a joint he is holding in the air.
“Feiglin is a revelation to young, secular supporters of the center-left,” explained commentator Yaron Dekel in the YNet news site. “He emphasizes that he is primarily liberal when it comes to the issue of religion and state, and a staunch supporter of the legalization of marijuana, but is hiding an extremely hawkish platform in every other arena.”
The political manifesto of Feiglin’s Zehut — Hebrew for identity — party includes canceling signed agreements with the Palestinians, making Israeli Arab citizens pass a loyalty test and offering financial incentives to them to emigrate elsewhere if they refuse to accept Jewish sovereignty over the land.
He’s also spoken out against women, gays and reform Jews. In 1995, shortly before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, his Zo Artzeinu (This is our Land) movement blocked dozens of major intersections that wreaked havoc throughout the country. The Supreme Court later sentenced him to six months in prison for sedition against the state, which was later commuted to community service.
Feiglin, who refused an Associated Press interview, has downplayed his past as an ultranationalist activist and insists he is currently focused on civic issues alone. In reinventing himself, he has managed to create the latest iteration of a regular Israeli election ritual of obscure and offbeat lists offering an entertaining diversion to those voters despairing over Israel’s weighty issues.
Previous parties have included a faction calling for the establishment of a national casino and a group led by a fishmonger and puppeteer that tried to abolish bank fees. An offshoot of Green Leaf aligned with elderly Holocaust survivors to make a run in 2009 and four years later its castaways ran as the Israeli Pirate Party, offering a platform promoting a variety of personal freedoms, including the right to sail the high seas.
Should Zehut manage to cross the electoral threshold, it would join the likes of the Israeli Pensioners Party that managed to win seven seats in the 2006 election and joined Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet. Seen largely as the recipient of protest votes against the system, the group of retirees led by an octogenarian former spymaster disappeared in the next election.
Feiglin’s Zehut party, however, could prove to have a greater impact if it eventually has a say in who forms the next government. Columnist Shmuel Rosner called its emergence a “deliberate, cunning distraction” that reflects the dire state of discourse and overall disgust with mainstream politics.
“It is the proof — and not the first — of the difficulty the public has in addressing complex issues that require expertise and in-depth study,” he wrote Thursday in Maariv. “Everyone has despaired and only wants to be given something to dull their senses. It could be that the marijuana in the campaign is simply medical cannabis to relieve pain.”
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Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap

Dutch police hunt suspect after shooting on tram kills 1

By ALEKSANDAR FURTULA and MIKE CORDER Associated Press
UTRECHT, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch police were hunting down a suspect after a shooting Monday on a tram in the central Dutch city of Utrecht that left a dead body on the ground and multiple people injured, according to police.
Authorities immediately raised the terror alert for the area to the maximum level and said they are considering the possibility of a “terrorist motive” in the attack. Dutch military police went on extra alert at Dutch airports and at key buildings in the country as the Utrecht manhunt took place.
Police, including heavily armed officers, flooded the area after the shooting Monday morning on a tram at a busy traffic intersection in a residential neighborhood. They later erected a white tent over an area where a body appeared to be lying next to the tram.
Utrecht police said trauma helicopters were sent to the scene and appealed to the public to stay away.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the situation “very worrying” and the country’s counterterror coordinator said in a tweet that a crisis team was meeting to discuss the situation.
Police spokesman Bernhard Jens said no one had been detained yet in the shooting, and one possible “explanation is that the person fled by car.” He did not rule out the possibility that more than one shooter was involved in the attack.
“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.
The Netherlands’ anti-terror coordinator raised the threat alert to its highest level around Utrecht. Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg said the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province.”
“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message.
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Corder reported from The Hague. Geir Moulson in Berlin and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.

Putin visits Crimea to mark 5th anniversary of annexation

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is marking the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine by visiting the Black Sea peninsula.
Putin on Monday attended the launch of new power plants in Crimea, part of Moscow’s efforts to upgrade the region’s infrastructure. Ukraine has cut off energy supplies to the peninsula and blocked shipments of Crimea-bound cargo via its territory after Moscow annexed the region in 2014.
Russia’s modernization effort has included the construction of a 19-kilometer (11.8-mile) bridge across the Kerch Strait linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov that opened last year. The $3.6-billion project helped facilitate links with Crimea, which previously depended on a ferry crossing that was often interrupted by gales.
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 following a hastily called referendum, a move that drew U.S. and EU sanctions.

Brother’s teasing proved prophetic before NZ mosque shooting

By KRISTEN GELINEAU Associated Press
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — She wonders now if that moment was a prophecy, if her brother somehow knew it was the last time they’d see each other. Or maybe he was just teasing her, like he always did. But whatever the whole thing meant, Aya Al-Umari likes to believe it was her brother’s way of saying goodbye.
It was Thursday, the evening before a white supremacist stormed into the mosque where Hussein Al-Umari was praying, killing the 35-year-old in New Zealand’s deadliest mass shooting in modern history. Hussein had joined his sister Aya and their parents for dinner. And he was fixated on Aya’s new shirt.
It was just a simple cream-colored T-shirt. But on the front were three words: “See You Bye.”
Every time she passed him, he’d chirp: “Hey, that’s a nice top!”
Was he serious, or just making fun of her? She couldn’t tell. After the fifth comment, she started ignoring him. Like most big brothers, he could be a real pest.
He’d always delighted in teasing her. One time when they were visiting Malaysia as kids, he’d given her some candy that he assured her was smooth and sweet. When she put it in her mouth, she quickly realized he’d tricked her. It was popping candy, which instantly began to fizz and spark on her tongue. She shrieked. He laughed.
When Hussein left her house on Thursday night, she was busy. She didn’t get the chance to hug him goodbye, or say the words out loud.
The next day was a nightmare. Hussein, who worked in the tourism industry, was between jobs, which left him free to attend Friday prayers at Al Noor mosque. He died there, one of 50 people whose lives were cut short in a barrage of racist violence that day.
On Friday night, Aya returned home and saw the shirt lying on a chair. She looked at the words, “See You Bye.” She thought of Hussein. Maybe he’d had a premonition.
She alternates between laughter and tears when she thinks of him now. The two of them moved from Abu Dhabi to Christchurch in 1997, and had settled comfortably into their new lives in the peaceful green country. Hussein, an exercise enthusiast, loved taking long walks, sometimes several times a day. He also loved to travel, most recently to the seaside South Island city of Nelson. He’d created a video blog of his adventures; Aya had been impressed by how polished the video was.
When she remembers Hussein, she pictures him with his arms wide open, ready to wrap her in an embrace. He’d always been a hugger. Even after a long day, when she just wanted to go to bed, he insisted on giving her a squeeze first.
On Monday, she was left wondering where Hussein was. Like most families who lost loved ones in the attacks, she was still waiting for her brother’s body to be released. The wait has been made more painful by the fact that Islamic law calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours.
“It’s very unsettling not knowing what’s going on. If you just let me know — is he still in the mosque? Is he in a fridge? Where is he?” she said. “I understand the police need to do their job because it’s a crime scene, but you need to communicate with the families.”
For now, she comforts herself with memories of Hussein the way he was in life: arms wide open, wrapping her in a hug. Teasing her about a T-shirt that she clings to as a symbol of their final farewell.

NATO, EU condemn Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO and the European Union are condemning Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula five years after Moscow declared the region Russian territory.
NATO allies said in a statement Monday that “we strongly condemn this act, which we do not and will not recognize.”
They also criticized Russia’s military buildup in Crimea and alleged rights abuses including “arbitrary detentions, arrest, and torture” against members of the Crimean Tartar community.
EU foreign ministers are marking the fifth anniversary of the annexation.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “We stand in full solidarity with Ukraine, supporting its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
NATO and the EU also called for the release of Ukrainian sailors detained by the Russian navy and coast guard in waters off Ukraine in November.

France cleans up Champs-Elysees after yellow vest rioting

By THOMAS ADAMSON and ANGELA CHARLTON Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — Paris cleaned up one of the world’s most glamorous avenues Sunday after rioting by an ultraviolent core in the dwindling yellow vest protest movement angry at President Emmanuel Macron.
Luxury stores, restaurants and banks on the Champs-Elysees assessed damage after they were ransacked or blackened by life-threatening fires, as tourists took pictures, shop owners repaired broken windows, and city workers scrubbed away graffiti.
Images of the damage — including from a bank fire that engulfed a residential building and threatened a mother and child’s life — has shocked France and seems to be further eroding public support for the fizzling four-month-old movement.
“This is disgusting. I used to have support for them, but they have gone too far. A mother and baby nearly died… This isn’t protest — this is criminal,” said Alice Giraud, a 42-year-old musician from Marseille and mother of two, who was inspecting a burnt out kiosk on the Champs-Elysees that still reeked of smoke.
Others blamed the violence on the “thugs,” a hardcore group of ultraviolent yellow vest demonstrators that Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said comprised a mere 1,500 individuals that came into Paris just to smash things up.
“The yellow vest protests are dying… They are basically getting smaller as time goes on, and the thugs are angry about that so they are expressing it in violence,” said Julien, 32-year old a baker from Paris, who wouldn’t give his last name.
Some 10,000 people participated in Saturday’s Paris protest, according to France’s Interior Ministry, up from the 3,000 recorded the Saturday before. Around the country, the ministry estimated that it was up from last week — at 32,300, compared with 28,600.
However, it was far from the 250,000 yellow vest demonstrators who protested in December — and a fraction of the 145,000 people who took part in peaceful climate marches Saturday around France, according to the ministry’s figures.
Public support for the movement that sought for economic justice by has been sullied by violence and extremist is dwindling, and its target Macron is resurgent in the polls.
The movement that began Nov. 17 of last year tapped into widespread discontent with high taxes and diminishing living standards in working class provinces — and anger at Macron, seen as too friendly with the rich and powerful and out of touch with French concerns.
But the yellow vest movement has lost support because of protest violence, internal divisions and concessions by Macron’s government. The remaining protesters appear increasingly extreme, even as they sought to revive their movement Saturday by marking the end of a two-month-long national debate called by Macron that protesters say failed to answer their demands.
A defiant Macron promised a crackdown on troublemakers that “want to destroy the republic, at the risk of killing people.”
He met security officials at the crisis center overseeing the police response, after cutting short a weekend ski trip late Saturday night. But he also tweeted that the rioting showed that his government needs to do more to address protesters’ concerns.
The Interior Ministry said Macron has requested that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Castaner meet Sunday to come up with a response to the violence.
Authorities and some protesters blamed extremists who come to demonstrations with the express goal of attacking police and damaging property. They dress in black, including masks and hoods to make it harder for police to identify them, and often target symbols of capitalism or globalization.
On the Champs-Elysees, an eerie calm replaced the hours-long chaos of the day before on the street that Parisians call “the most beautiful avenue in the world.”
No police were visible Sunday, and traffic rolled down cobblestones that had been the scene of battles between rioters and police struggling to contain them.
Castaner went to the Champs-Elysees to lay a flower at the plaque commemorating a police officer killed in 2017 by an Islamic extremist that was vandalized by factions of the yellow vest protest.
Passers-by lamented the damage to Xavier Jugele’s memorial.
“There’s no more respect.” said Guillaume Catel, 40, who was out shopping. “This man gave his life to protect France and this is the thanks he gets.”
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Milos Krivokapic and Elaine Ganley contributed to this report.

Ethiopians hold mass funeral ceremony for crash victims

By ELIAS MESERET Associated Press
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Thousands mourned the Ethiopian plane crash victims on Sunday, accompanying 17 empty caskets draped in the national flag through the streets of the capital as some victims’ relatives fainted and fell to the ground.
The service came one day after officials began delivering bags of earth to family members of the 157 victims of the crash instead of the remains of their loved ones because the identification process is expected to take such a long time.
Family members confirmed they were given a 1 kilogram (2.2 pound) sack of scorched earth taken from the crash site. Many relatives already have gathered at the rural, dusty crash site outside Ethiopia’s capital.
The victims Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 came from 35 countries and included many humanitarian workers headed to Nairobi.
Elias Bilew said he had worked with one of the victims, Sintayehu Shafi, for the past eight years.
“He was such a good person,” Bilew said. “He doesn’t deserve this. He was the pillar for his whole family.”
French investigators said Saturday night that they had successfully downloaded the cockpit recorder data and had transferred it to the Ethiopian investigation team without listening to the audio files. Work on the flight data recorder resumed Sunday but no additional details were given.
Experts from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the plane’s manufacturer Boeing are among those involved in the investigation.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has said satellite-based tracking data shows that the movements of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 were similar to those of Lion Air Flight 610, which crashed off Indonesia in October, killing 189 people. Both involved Boeing 737 Max 8 planes.
The planes in both crashes flew with erratic altitude changes that could indicate the pilots struggled to control the aircraft. Shortly after their takeoffs, both crews tried to return to the airports but crashed.
The United States and many other countries have now grounded the Max 8s as the U.S.-based company faces the challenge of proving the jets are safe to fly amid suspicions that faulty sensors and software contributed to the two crashes that killed 346 people in less than six months.
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Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Hungary leader grapples with EU as corruption concerns rise

By PABLO GORONDI Associated Press
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — As the Hungarian prime minister’s conflicts with the European Union appear headed to a breaking point, calls are increasing for greater scrutiny of his government’s spending of the bloc’s funds.
An opposition lawmaker in Hungary has gathered more than 470,000 signatures to pressure Prime Minister Viktor Orban into joining the budding European Public Prosecutor’s Office as Orban’s Fidesz party may be suspended or expelled next week from the main center-right group in the European Parliament.
The EU has allocated Hungary 25 billion euros ($28.3 billion) in the 2014-2020 budget period, but critics say funds are often spent on overpriced or unnecessary projects padding the pockets of the allies of Orban, whose anti-EU campaigns over migration policies and national sovereignty have gotten him into trouble with the European People’s Party as well as with the EU itself, which Orban accuses of increasing its powers to the detriment of the member states.
Despite the conflicts with Brussels, Hungary has been among the most successful EU countries in retrieving the bloc’s support, with 32 percent of available funds drawn down from the current budget. An EU proposal for the 2021-2027 period, however, could see Hungary’s subsidies cut by 24 percent compared to the current seven-year cycle — a budget restructuring necessitated in part by Brexit.
Independent lawmaker Akos Hadhazy launched a petition in September meant to gather 1 million signatures and hopefully pressure the Orban government into joining the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, a new body planned to begin anti-corruption investigations over the use of EU funds at the end of 2020.
Hadhazy and other critics have long maintained that Hungary’s chief prosecutor, Peter Polt, has failed to investigate many cases of suspected corruption, some even seen touching Orban’s family.
In Transparency International’s latest annual survey on corruption in the public sector, published in January, Hungary sits in 26th place out of the 28 EU countries, bettering only Greece and Bulgaria, even despite a slight improvement in the last year.
“There are two bastions which keep this populist regime in power — one is the chief prosecutor and the other is public media and government propaganda,” Hadhazy said last week while helping activists gather signatures. Polt “has been successfully attempting to whitewash the corruption affairs involving the Hungarian government … and the most prominent politicians.”
“This political regime, which is infectious and dangerous for the European Union, is being supported by the European Union subsidies,” Hadhazy said. More than 470,000 Hungarians have already signed his petition, which is not legally binding.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Monday defended Polt, calling criticism of the former Fidesz parliamentary candidate “a coordinated series of political attacks.”
“In Hungary, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office investigates and has investigated all cases which it considered justified,” Szijjarto said. Hungary has rejected joining the European office citing national sovereignty concerns and even misgivings about its quality.
The list of renovations and constructions partly funded by the EU in Budapest is long and imposing. It includes 180 billion forints ($648 million) given for the city’s fourth subway line, 11.8 billion forints ($42.4 million) for the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, 5.7 billion forints ($20.5 million) for the reopening of Buda Castle’s Garden Bazaar and 3.3 billion forints ($11.8 billion) for construction at City Park’s ice-skating rink, Europe’s largest. EU funds covered between 39 and 89 percent of those projects’ total costs.
While Hungary may have to repay funds to the EU for projects found not to comply with EU rules, observers say there’s plenty left over for the favored few.
“In the past years, it has become clear that there are a few businesspeople close to the government whose companies nearly always win the large public contracts,” said Katalin Erdelyi, an award-winning investigative journalist at the atlatszo.hu website. “The investments are frequently overpriced, costing much more than initial estimates.”
There are numerous white elephants, too, public procurement projects built with the only apparent purpose of using up as many EU funds as possible, Erdelyi said.
One such endeavor is a bridge and “bicycle adventure park” which forms part of a bike path running from the town of Hatvan, 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Budapest. Safety concerns over its shoddy construction mean few bikers use the installations and what could have been a simple bridge, resembles, without explanation, a meandering highway.
With hundreds of Hungarian media outlets backing the government and Polt considered to frequently look the other way, it’s often been up to Atlatszo and other journalists and watchdog groups to dig deep into the alleged corruption cases.
“It would be very good if Hungary joined the European Prosecutor’s Office,” Erdelyi said. “It would be much easier to uncover the deals suspected of corruption and confirm whether or not there was any misuse of European Union subsidies.”
Regarding Orban’s conflict with the EPP, his ruling Fidesz party could be suspended or ejected from the group when the party’s political assembly meets March 20. For now, Orban has said repeatedly that he would prefer to stay in the center-right alliance, Europe’s largest, but wants to transform it into an anti-immigration force.
The long-brewing conflicts with the EPP have also been exacerbated by EU proceedings launched last year against Hungary over concerns about the rule of law and democratic EU values since Orban’s return to power in 2010.
Istvan Hegedus, a former Fidesz lawmaker and now chairman of the Hungarian Europe Society, a Budapest-based civic group dedicated to Hungary’s European integration, says Orban, despite all his clashes with the EU, is unlikely to break Hungary away from the bloc, if only to keep getting EU money.
“The funds, in part, generated non-sustainable growth, but if these financial resources were to end, the Hungarian economy would be in a much more difficult situation,” Hegedus said, naming EU farm subsidies as one of those vital for Hungary.
Though “he’s not there yet,” there could come a time — for example, if the radical right-wing populist breakthrough Orban is predicting fails to materialize in the coming years — when Orban grows tired of what he sees as the EU’s increasing encroachment.
Orban “is a politician who thinks in revolutionary terms … and he may even try to risk leaving the EU,” Hegedus said, although Hungarians in general overwhelmingly favor EU membership. “He will have to think over a thousand times whether he’ll give up these EU subsidies.”

UK leader to lawmakers: Back my deal or face lengthy delay

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May warned Sunday that it would be “a potent symbol of Parliament’s collective political failure” if a Brexit delay meant that the U.K. has to take part in May’s European elections — almost three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, May also cautioned that if lawmakers failed to back her deal before Thursday’s European Council summit, “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
“If the proposal were to go back to square one and negotiate a new deal, that would mean a much longer extension … The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.
May is expected to try to win Parliament’s approval of her withdrawal agreement for the third time this week. After months of political deadlock, lawmakers voted on Thursday to seek to postpone Brexit.
That will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — though power to approve or reject an extension lies with the EU. The European Commission has said the bloc would consider any request, “taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension.”
By law, Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay.
May is trying to persuade opponents in her Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies to support the withdrawal agreement, which Parliament has already resoundingly defeated twice.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Sunday his party is against May’s deal — but indicated that it would back an amendment that supports the deal on condition it is put to a new referendum.
Corbyn has written to lawmakers across the political spectrum inviting them for talks to find a cross-party compromise.
He also told Sky News that he may propose another no-confidence vote in the government if May’s deal is voted down again.

New Zealand citizens open to gun reform after massacre

By STEPHEN WRIGHT and KRISTEN GELINEAU Associated Press
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — The New Zealand leader’s promise of tightened gun laws in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings has been widely welcomed by a stunned population.
Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern said her Cabinet will consider the details of the changes on Monday. She has said options include a ban on private ownership of semi-automatic rifles that were used with devastating effect in Christchurch and a government-funded buyback of newly outlawed guns.
While curtailing gun owners’ rights is a political battleground in the United States, Christchurch gun owner Max Roberts, 22, predicted Ardern won’t face serious opposition to her agenda.
“There will be no opposition to it. There’s no movement in New Zealand for that. Our media and politics are more left wing,” said Roberts, a carpenter who uses guns for hunting.
Elliot Dawson, who survived the shooting at Christchurch’s Linwood mosque by hiding in a bathroom, hopes New Zealand follows Australia’s lead on gun control.
In Australia, a virtual ban on private ownership of semi-automatic rifles and a government-funded gun buyback cut the size of the country’s civilian arsenal by almost a third.
The ban followed a 1996 massacre in which a lone gunman used assault rifles to kill 35 people in Tasmania state in 1996.
“Personally, I don’t think guns should be legal at all. Maybe in some extreme self-defense, but I don’t think they need such firearms like that,” Dawson said. “New Zealand is not America. America is a totally different situation. I think in America it would be probably more dangerous to take people’s guns away. But here, I don’t think we need them at all.”
Akshesh Sharma moved to Christchurch from Fiji to study. He was shocked that the shooter was able to get his hands on such military-style weapons.
Sharma agrees with the prime minister that gun laws need to be tightened.
“I don’t see this as a place where you need guns to live to feel safe,” Sharma said. “I can understand in the U.S. maybe, but here it’s a different story.”
Roberts, the gun owner, doubted banning certain types of weapons would be effective. But he said New Zealand should only allow its own citizens to buy guns. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the Australian charged in the Christchurch shootings, obtained a New Zealand gun license in November 2017 and started legally amassing an arsenal of five guns within a month.
“I think when people harbor hate like, that these things are possible,” Roberts said.
“Particularly Australian citizens, I don’t understand how they can get access to firearms in New Zealand when New Zealand citizens can’t get access to firearms in Australia,” he added.
Ian Britton uses a rifle for shooting rabbits and target shooting. He favors outlawing assault rifles like those used in Christchurch because they’re unnecessary.
“I can’t use the words I’d like to use, but it’s disgusting. I never thought I’d see that in this country,” Britton said.
Ardern noted that attempts to reform had failed before under pressure from the gun lobby.
“There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change,” she said.
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Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.