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New Zealand votes to keep flag in referendum

New Zealanders have voted to keep their existing flag after a national referendum, preliminary results show.

The referendum asked whether the flag which includes the Union Jack should be replaced by a design called Silver Fern, which won an earlier ballot.

The results show 56.6% voted for no change, while 43.1% opted for the new design. Just over 2.1m votes were cast.

PM John Key had advocated the new flag but called on New Zealanders to “embrace” the people’s decision.

He was speaking after the preliminary result was announced following the close of the postal vote at 19:00 local time (06:00 GMT).

The existing design features the British Union Flag, a legacy of New Zealand’s days as a British colony and the reason many wanted to change it.

The proposed new design combines four red stars representing the Southern Cross constellation, also seen in the current flag, with a silver fern and black in the corner – both motifs associated with New Zealand and its famous rugby team.

It was chosen in the first stage of the referendum last December from a shortlist of five candidates. That list was selected by a panel from a longer list of 40.

The long list was criticised for lacking imagination, critics saying that while it featured many striking similar designs they were just in different colours.

A final result taking into account late ballots will be announced next Wednesday.

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