A defiant US ambassador gave a clear message to those who gathered in New Zealand yesterday to remember the September 11 victims - terrorists will not dictate his country's future.

In a hard-hitting speech, Charles Swindells said the terrorists had failed.

"It seems that the terrorists had as their goal the disruption of our way of life by fear and intimidation. They have failed. We will not be intimidated, and we will not let anyone shape our future other than ourselves."


Mr Swindells delivered his speech at an emotional September 11 remembrance ceremony in the grounds of the US Embassy in Wellington.

Security was tight - police patrol cars cruised slowly past the fences and officers looked on from nearby buildings. Two days earlier the embassy buildings had been evacuated because of an anthrax scare.

Mr Swindells said some had predicted the end of normal life after the attacks.

"We were told by the pundits that personal freedoms would be eclipsed by oppressive security needs; that the very fabric of our daily lives would be forever torn by those moments of cowardly terror ... The pundits were wrong."

About 100 invited guests, including several MPs and military officers, attended the embassy ceremony. Many wept openly during proceedings.

In a symbolic gesture, Mr Swindells and Prime Minister Helen Clark planted two trees in compost made from the flowers left at the embassy's gates a year ago.

Outside the embassy, schoolgirls stopped to drop off more bouquets of flowers. The messages were simple: "We will not forget".

Helen Clark said New Zealand mourned with the United States, and she pointed to local defence personnel working alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan.

After the ceremony, which lasted about 25 minutes, many of the guests joined nearly 1000 other people at a service at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul.

Firemen clad in fireproof suits and helmets formed a guard of honour for departing dignitaries.

The Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, read a passage from the Bible, and Helen Clark recited a poem that was first read to a special session of the US Congress last week in New York.

Later in Parliament, MPs observed a minute's silence for the occasion.

As a mark of respect the New Zealand Stock Exchange opened two hours later than normal.

At 8.46 am, the time in New York when the first passenger jet hit the World Trade Centre, choirs from Auckland and Wellington began a worldwide chorus of Mozart's Requiem. The 45-minute work will be sung around the world over 24 hours.

In Auckland, a 7m by 5m United States flag flew at half-mast over the harbour bridge.

In Ponsonby, women in headscarves and men in robes joined hands across a Ponsonby road as a sign of tolerance and understanding.

Members of the Muslim community arrived at the Auckland Mosque at the same time that Christians gathered at a church across the road for prayers of remembrance.

One Muslim woman stayed behind as the gathering broke up. She wanted to watch the assembled people making new bonds, she said.

Departing Christians and Muslims turned to wave.

She waved back.

"Go well," she said. "Go in peace. Go well."