At New York mosque, UN chief pledges to help protect religious sites worldwide
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At New York mosque, UN chief pledges to help protect religious sites worldwide

Guterres cites rise of anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism and bigotry; says many political movements either openly admit to being neo-Nazi or are ‘lip syncing their words’

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visits the Islamic Cultural Center in New York March 22, 2019 to make remarks  on the New Zealand attack and the need to address Islamophobia. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visits the Islamic Cultural Center in New York March 22, 2019 to make remarks on the New Zealand attack and the need to address Islamophobia. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

NEW YORK — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday pledged action to help protect religious sites worldwide, during a visit to a New York Islamic center one week after the New Zealand mosque shootings that shocked the world.

“Mosques and all places of prayer and contemplation should be safe havens, not sites of terror,” Guterres said. “Worshipers must feel safe to worship.”

Guterres met with worshipers at the Islamic Cultural Center’s mosque in Manhattan as they gathered ahead of Friday prayers and offered “solidarity with the Muslim community from New York to New Zealand and beyond.”

Speaking to reporters, the UN chief announced that he had tasked Spanish diplomat Miguel Moratinos with the drafting of an action plan for the United Nations to support efforts to protect religious sites.

Moratinos heads the UN Alliance of Civilisations, a group led by Spain and Turkey that seeks to foster better understanding between cultures and societies.

The group will reach out to governments, religious leaders and organizations to explore actions to prevent such attacks as the Christchurch shooting that left 50 dead.

Mourners carry the first coffins of victims killed in the March 15 twin mosque massacre during a funeral at the Memorial Park cemetery in Christchurch on March 20, 2019. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST / AFP)

Addressing a meeting in Istanbul of Muslim countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the world to fight Islamophobia in the same way it fought anti-Semitism after the Holocaust.

Guterres said the attack in New Zealand was “utterly appalling” but “perhaps not utterly surprising,” citing the rise of anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism and bigotry.

“Hate speech is spreading like wildfire,” he said.

Social media is being exploited to spread bigotry while many political movements either openly admit to being neo-Nazi or are “lip syncing their words,” he added.

The UN chief spoke of the victims of the Christchurch shooting, some of whom lost their lives saving others, and said he was “deeply moved by the extraordinary display of leadership, love and community from the people of New Zealand.”

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