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Jacinda Ardern praises Kiwi Muslims' 'forgiveness and aroha' at UN event celebrating Gandhi


Jacinda Ardern called on world leaders today to learn from peace activist Mahatma Gandhi, especially in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, as she spoke at an event in New York celebrating 150 years since his birth.

Jacinda Ardern speaks at the UN general assembly. Source: 1 NEWS

Ms Ardern acknowledged Indian PM Narendra Modhi while at the address, saying, "As political leaders, there is much we can learn from Gandhi as we search for common ground to address the world's pressing challenges".

"For me, there are three aspects of Gandhi’s message that carry particular weight: tolerance, equality, and the sanctity of non-violence," she said. "These are values that we should keep at the forefront of our minds, not just in good times, but especially when faced with difficult choices."

Ms Ardern, who is in the United States to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly, used the address to discuss the lessons learned in the wake of the March 15 Christchurch terrorist attacks, an "act of terrorism that sought to divide us".

"Yet in the face of this act of hatred and violence, the New Zealand Muslim community opened their doors for all New Zealanders and the world to grieve with them," she said. "Their act of peace was a powerful and empowering one. In opening their doors they sowed the seeds of diversity, humanity, forgiveness and aroha. They broke a potential cycle of violence."

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The Prime Minister spoke to world leaders today about developments to counter terrorism globally. Source: 1 NEWS

The world leader also acknowledged the "unifying power of interfaith and intercultural understanding" following the attacks, which saw 51 people lose their lives in shootings at two Christchurch mosques.

"The 15 March attacks are a tragedy we will not forget, and that require us to reflect on what we need to do to be the society we want to be," she said. "But we have also been reminded of the power of holding true to the values of tolerance, equality and non-violence in the face of hatred and violence.

"We must build societies that are inclusive of all religions, races and gender, and that solve disputes without recourse to violence. New thinking is also required to address the inequality that continues to blight the existence of many."

Ms Ardern said the Government's focus on wellbeing was about addressing inequality.

"Like Gandhi, we should not be afraid to stand up and transform our societies for the better," she said, using the example of Gandhi's peaceful political dissent by walking 240 miles across West India to protest a salt tax.

"Creating a safe space for the expression of different ideas; for political debate and dialogue whether it be on the streets or online remains an essential part of democratic and pluralistic societies. It is critical in resolving tensions in a peaceful manner."

Ms Ardern added that Gandhi's legacy "is as relevant today as it ever was".

"It calls on us to reject bigotry and intolerance, and embrace kindness and truth. It calls on us to strive for equality, no matter how difficult and entrenched systems are. And it demands that we recognise the lasting value of peace.

"Let us all recommit to those principals as we acknowledge 150 years of an enormous legacy."

Ms Ardern's speech today came as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the United Nations of possible war between Pakistan and India over what he called a brutal Indian crackdown in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

India and Pakistan's conflict over Kashmir dates to the late 1940s when they won independence from Britain. The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world, patrolled by soldiers and paramilitary police. Most Kashmiris resent the Indian troop presence. Mr Modi has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters welcomed the move.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.