CNN WORLD News

Thousands mourn Australian massacre victims

Gun owners protest government crackdown

May 19, 1996
Web posted at: 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT)

PORT ARTHUR, Australia (CNN) -- More than 5,000 mourners gathered for an emotional memorial service Sunday near the site where 35 people died in last month's massacre on the island of Tasmania.

Relatives and friends of the victims joined political, community and church leaders for the nationally televised open-air service.

"We must now move on," Tasmanian Gov. Sir Guy Green told the tearful crowd from a temporary stage erected near the former colonial sandstone penitentiary.

"While we should never forget what has happened, it is right that we should now also be doing what we can to hasten the advent of that day when visitors return to this site," Green said.

Pope John Paul sent a message of condolence to those attending the service, expressing deep sadness at the "senseless tragedy."

Port Arthur, usually Tasmania's most popular tourist attraction, has been nearly deserted since a gunman opened fire on visitors on a Sunday afternoon three weeks ago. From 1830 until 1877, the penal colony was one of the British empire's most remote and harsh prisons.

Martin Bryant, 28, from the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, has been charged with one of the murders and is to appear in court Wednesday.

Doves and bagpipes

Australian officials arranged the memorial to thank emergency service personnel and volunteers, in hopes of healing some of the emotional wounds from one of Australia's worst tragedies.

map of Port Arthur

As the service ended, 35 white doves -- one for each victim -- were released to the music of mournful bagpipes. A large carved wooden cross inscribed with the names of the dead was erected as a permanent memorial near the Port Arthur waterfront. It was surrounded by flowers.

A nearby cafe where most of the victims were gunned down in the opening minutes of the massacre is to be bulldozed soon.

Angry gun owners

choir

The service coincided with demonstrations elsewhere in Australia by gun owners upset over a government decision to ban rapid-fire weapons. Ted Drane, president of the Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia, said the ban would not prevent more massacres.

"If someone can prove to me that if I give up my four self-loaders that no one else in this country will be killed, then they can have them," Drane told a rally in Victoria.

Angry gun owners are pressuring the rural-based National Party, a member of the governing coalition, to reverse its support for the ban.

mourn

Politicians have been threatened by extremist gun owners, and Prime Minister John Howard, who led the campaign for a ban on semi-automatic and automatic rifles, has been given additional security, a Sydney newspaper said Sunday.

A clergyman urged gun owners to act in the national interest. "We ask that the minority be willing to forgo their short-term wants for the long-term good of Australia," said Glenn Cumbers of the Church of Christ.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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