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WELLINGTON, August 2, 2018 (News Wires) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern returned to work on Thursday just six weeks after delivering her first child, having become the first premier in the nation's history to take maternity leave while in office.

The 38-year-old premier's pregnancy was seen by many as a symbol of progress for women in leadership roles as she became only the second elected leader, after Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto in 1990, to have given birth in office.

"Day to day I'm worrying about feeding, sleeping and nappies and then there's this overlay of interest in something that is actually mundane," Ardern said in an interview with Television New Zealand.

"I’m just perhaps amongst some of the first who are doing something that hasn’t been done very often, but one day it will be normal."

New Zealand's parliament has worked to become more baby-friendly in recent months and Ardern's daughter, Neve Te Aroha, will be allowed to cuddle with her mother during debates and swim in the pool alongside other legislators' children.

Ardern's stratospheric rise to become the country's youngest prime minister and third woman to hold the office resulted in New Zealanders coining the phrase "Jacinda-mania" and her personal approval ratings have been at historic highs.

She emerged as leader of the then-struggling Labour Party a year ago, just weeks before a general election that ended almost a decade of centre-right National Party rule.

While she was on maternity leave, the coalition government was led by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who will attend a Southeast Asian summit in Singapore this week.

"They have been the fastest six weeks of my life...but it's been wonderful" Ardern said.

Ardern will leave her home town of Auckland to return to the capital, Wellington, on Saturday. Her partner, Clarke Gayford, will care for the baby full-time while she takes her place in parliament on Tuesday.

Ardern said in media interviews that Neve would travel with her for the timebeing given she is breastfeeding and would accompany her on a trip to New York for the UN General Assembly meeting in September.

Ardern said she would focus on the government's priorities of mental health, the environment, trade and the economy as she returned to work.

SAN FRANCISCO, July 23, 2018 (News Wires) - New Zealand became the first team in history to win back-to-back Rugby Sevens World Cup crown, defeating England 33-12 in the final at AT&T Park.

The New Zealanders, who had won the last tournament in 2013 in Moscow, had too much class for England on their way to a deserved win, outscoring their opponents by five tries to two.

The victory Sunday completed a golden weekend in San Francisco for New Zealand after their women successfully defended their own sevens title on Saturday.

New Zealand's men and women's teams now hold world titles in both seven-a-side and 15-a-side versions of the game.

The New Zealanders, who had earlier stunned Olympic champions Fiji to reach the final, took the lead in the opening minute, when Sione Molia burst through weak English tackling to score under the posts.

Molia then grabbed a second try moments later, burrowing over from close range to cap a dominant start by the New Zealanders.

England hit back though on the stroke of half-time when Mike Ellery found space inside the 22 from Dan Norton's pass for a converted score which made it 14-7 at the break.

New Zealand were soon threatening again after the restart and Joe Ravouvou took the into a 19-7 lead when he easily beat Norton on the outside for a try in the corner.

Ruaridh McConnochie gave England hope of a fightback after dotting down in the corner following Harry Glover's break.

But New Zealand upped the tempo and finished off with two more tries from Akuila Rokolisoa and Traell Joass to secure New Zealand's third outright victory in the tournament.

The New Zealanders had earlier reached the final after a clinical 22-17 defeat of Olympic champions Fiji in the semi-finals.

Joe Ravouvou scored twice for the New Zealanders as Fiji struggled to compete with the physical threat of the champions at the breakdown.

Although Fiji scored tries through Semi Radradra and Amenoni Nasilasila to lead at half-time, New Zealand raised their game in the second half to advance to the final.

WELLINGTON, June 21, 2018  (News Wires) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave birth to her first child, a girl, on Thursday, Ardern said in a posting on Instagram.

Ardern, 37, became New Zealand’s youngest prime minister when she took office through a coalition deal last year after an inconclusive election, and now becomes the first woman in the country’s history to give birth while in office.

“Welcome to our village wee one,” Ardern wrote on Instagram.

“Feeling very lucky to have a healthy baby girl that arrived at 4.45 pm weighing 3.31 kg (7.3 lb) ... We’re all doing really well thanks to the wonderful team at Auckland City Hospital.”

She posted a picture of herself, smiling and holding the baby in a woollen blanket, with her partner, television presenter Clarke Gayford.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has stepped in as acting prime minister and will run the country for the next six weeks while Ardern takes maternity leave, according to an agreement they published earlier.

Ardern is one of the few elected leaders to hold office while pregnant. Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto gave birth while she was prime minister in 1990.

WELLINGTON, April 12, 2018 (Reuters) - New Zealand will not grant any new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration, Prime Minister Jacinda Ahern said on Thursday, taking the industry by surprise with a decision that it says will push investment overseas.

The centre-left Labour-led government said the move would not affect the country's 22 existing exploration permits, and any oil and gas discoveries from firms holding those licenses could still lead to mining permits of up to 40 years.

Ardern, who campaigned heavily on preventing climate change in the run-up to last year's tight election, said the decision was a responsible step and provided certainty for businesses and communities.

"We have been a world leader on critical issues to humanity by being nuclear free...and now we could be world leading in becoming carbon neutral," she told university students in the country's capital, Wellington.

Interest in oil exploration in New Zealand has waned in recent years due to lower global oil prices, with only one permit issued in 2017, compared with 10 in 2014.

However, business and regional leaders said they had been blindsided by the move and feared the government was risking jobs in the NZ$2.5 billion ($1.8 billion) oil and gas industry.

National opposition Energy and Resources spokesman Jonathan Young said the decision would simply shift production elsewhere in the world, while Neil Holdom, mayor of the main city in the energy-rich Taranaki region, labeled it "a kick in the guts."

One of the country's main energy companies, New Zealand Oil & Gas said it had not been warned of the change.

"We note that the announcement is a sudden change of policy, which has not been consulted on and appears to conflict with the government's pre-election promises," it said in a statement.

The company, whose shares fell to six-month low, said the move would have no immediate material impact on its financial position, but it would invest in exploration and production assets in other jurisdictions.

The oil and gas industry accounts for only about 1.4 per cent of New Zealand's economy, but the furor underscored the challenge faced by Labour - which has a support arrangement with the Green Party - in winning over the business sector.

 

WELLINGTON, March 29 (Reuters) - New Zealand will not allow entry to Russian diplomats expelled by other countries in response to a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain, that Britain has blamed on Russia, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.

The attempted murder of Sergie Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain’s MI6 spy service, has plunged Moscow’s relations with the West to a new post-Cold War low.

After Britain expelled 23 Russians it said were spies working under diplomatic cover, Russia followed by throwing out 23 British diplomats. The United States and other Western countries, including most member states of the European Union and NATO, expelled more than 100 diplomats.

New Zealand has not expelled any Russians, which Ardern earlier justified by saying there were no Russian spies present at the Russian embassy in New Zealand for her government to expel, unlike the situation in other intelligence partners.

She said on Thursday she would ask allies for the names of the Russians they expelled and they would not be allowed into New Zealand to protest against Russia’s “inadequate response” to the attack in Britain.

“Those names will then be placed on a travel ban list to ensure that individuals who have been found to undertake activities incompatible with their diplomatic status in other countries do not enter New Zealand,” she said in a statement.

Some politicians had earlier criticised Ardern for not taking a harder stance against Russia, and risking a rift with the Pacific nation’s Western allies.

“The perception is that the original response wasn’t strong enough and therefore they’re trying to make up for it,” Robert Ayson, professor of security studies at the Victoria University in Wellington, said of the travel ban.

“It does look like a bit of scramble.”

Rhys Ball, a Massey University security analyst who formerly worked for New Zealand’s intelligence service, said the government’s block on the expelled Russians was largely a gesture.

“It’s a very lightweight effort ... those undeclared intelligence officers are essentially what we would describe as ‘blown’ now and they’re not going to travel to any other country any time soon,” Ball said.

Some analysts see the government’s decision not to expel any Russians as one the first major international missteps for the charismatic Ardern, whose centre-left Labour government took the helm in October.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters told Parliament on Wednesday that most of Russia’s spying activity on New Zealand took place from offshore.

 

VIENNA, March 20 (Reuters) — Austria’s capital Vienna once again defended its position as the city offering the best quality of life in the world, while Iraq’s capital Baghdad remains the worst in an annual survey from consulting firm Mercer.

Mercer’s survey of 231 cities helps companies and organisations determine compensation and hardship allowances for international staff. Its criteria include political stability, healthcare, education, crime, recreation and transport.

Europe has eight of the world’s top 10 most pleasant cities: Germany and Switzerland each have three cities in the top 10, while New Zealand, Canada and Australia each have one.

With a population of 1.8 million, Vienna topped the survey for the ninth year in a row, boasting a vibrant cultural scene, comprehensive healthcare and moderate housing costs.

Vienna is followed by Switzerland’s Zurich and then New Zealand’s Auckland and Germany’s Munich in joint third.

Vancouver, ranked fifth, offers the best quality of living in North America. Singapore at 25 and Montevideo at 77 topped the Asian and Latin American places. The best African entry on the list was South Africa’s Durban in 89th place.

A year before Britain is expected to leave the European Union, its highest ranked city, London, fell one rank to 41 in an annual comparison.

“Cities in the UK continue to rank highly for quality of living, and remain attractive destinations for multinationals and their employees,” said Kate Fitzpatrick, Mercer’s Global Mobility Practice Leader for Britain and Ireland.

Over the past 20 years, living standards increased the most in some eastern European cities such as Sarajevo, now at 159, and Bratislava, at 80, the report said.

“As a result of increased living standards, a competitive labour market and talent availability, many of these cities have started attracting multinational businesses setting up new operations,” said Martine Ferland, President Europe and Pacific.

Baghdad has been at the bottom of the list for a decade now. Waves of sectarian violence have swept through the city since the American-led invasion in 2003.

Yemen’s capital Sanaa, devastated by conflict, ranked two places above Baghdad, and Syria’s Damascus, seven years into a civil war, ranked six places above Iraq’s capital.

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