Featured Spieth shakes off rust to sizzle in second round

Long-hitting Justin Thomas, co-leader overnight, fired a five-birdie 67 at the TPC Deere Run to take over on his own at the top, with fellow Americans Johnson Wagner (63) and Tom Gillis (65) a further stroke back at 11 under.

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Spieth, who took time off after his U.S. Open win at Chambers Bay last month, was delighted to rebound from an opening 71 where his short game was especially rusty.

“Today was a big step forward,” said the 21-year-old, who is using the tournament to tune up for next week’s British Open where he will aim to add the third leg of a grand slam of the majors.

“I was not feeling great after Wednesday (the pro-am), and then after yesterday … but to come out today and shoot a solid round when I know I needed to and to have my putter working when I knew I needed it to gives me a lot of confidence.

“I putted about as well today as I have the past couple months,” said Spieth, who totalled just 25 putts in the second round. “Ultimately this was a big day for me in my preparation for next week.”

Some have questioned the plan by Spieth to arrive at St. Andrews just three days before the start of the British Open but the American is happy with his preparations for the year’s third major.

“I got a good amount of practice in and I’ll be able to adjust to the speed and the conditions there,” he said. “I feel like I’ll be able to do that in a couple days.

“It is a career goal of mine to have a career grand slam (of the majors). If it happens in one year, that would be pretty special. I’m just focussed on St. Andrews.”

Rookie Thomas, seeking his first PGA Tour victory, was “very excited” to be leading after 36 holes.

“I stayed really patient, I kept hitting my lines and my birdies were pretty low-stress,” said Thomas. “I’m in a good spot.”

The cut fell at four-under 138 with former major winners Lucas Glover, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman and David Toms among those in failing to advance.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Featured Stone laments Knights’ fall from grace

Coach Rick Stone says Newcastle have forgotten how to win and admits he’s frustrated by their fall from NRL ladder leaders to cellar dwellers.

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The Knights posted their sixth successive loss on Friday night, beaten 36-22 by Canberra at GIO Stadium despite the return of playmaker Jarrod Mullen and a handful of other stars.

Stone said his team played more like they were in the under-eights than the NRL in the opening 25 minutes, when they were down 24-0.

The defeat sent them to the bottom of the table, thanks to their league-worst points differential.

At the start of April, they were at the top after four back-to-back victories.

“It’s frustrating,” a dejected Stone said.

“I know injuries have had a little bit to do with where we’ve been at some stages during the year – and we’ve still got a few players out, but every team’s got a few players out when you get to this stage of the season.

“We’re down on confidence, we’re struggling to know how to win a game at the moment.”

Blake Austin’s hat-trick inside the opening 15 minutes was somewhat of a slap in the face for Newcastle, who’ve now conceded the first try in each of their past six matches.

It’s a fact Stone laments.

“The way we’ve started the last couple of games doesn’t give you confidence, that’s for sure,” he said.

Stone was a bit more optimistic about Sione Mata’utia, who was taken off after a head knock.

“I don’t think it’s anything too major, but it was probably bad enough for him not to return to the game,” he said.

“A few bumps and bruises, but I don’t think it’s too bad.”

He was also hopeful forward Tariq Sims won’t have anything to answer after being placed on report for a crusher tackle on Austin in the first half.

“It’s up for the judiciary to have a look at that, they can sort that out.”

The Knights mentor also praised Tyrone Roberts, who played his first NRL match in more than a month.

The halfback’s future is in doubt following the club’s three-year deal with Canterbury’s Trent Hodkinson from 2016.

“He showed he’s a first-grade quality player and did some really good things,” Stone said.

“He’ll get some confidence out of that and he’ll get better next week.”

Featured Williams primed to land Wimbledon crown

Steely-eyed Serena Williams feels battle-hardened and ready to add a sixth Wimbledon crown to her growing grand slam collection with victory in her eighth final at the All England Club on Saturday.

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The world No.1 faces Spanish surprise packet Garbine Muguruza, a first-time grand slam finalist, and says her torrid early-round comeback wins over Victoria Azarenka and Heather Watson have her primed for the title match.

“Like I always say, I would prefer to have an easier match. But when you have a tough match and you’re able to come through, obviously that really helps,” Williams said after a crushing Maria Sharapova 6-2 6-4 in a semi-final cruise on Thursday.

“I think sometimes you definitely need them or you’re not feeling your game, or you feel like you’re not necessarily playing your best tennis.

“Sometimes they’re important to know that, `Okay, I can last two hours, I can last two-and-a-half hours if I need to’.

“Just mentally it’s like, `Okay, I know I can do that’.”

The winner of 38 out of 39 outings in 2015, Williams has more tennis history at her mercy against Muguruza, a 6-2 3-6 6-3 semi-final victor over Polish 13th seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

The American can complete another “Serena Slam” by holding all four major trophies for the second time, a feat the ageless champion last achieved 12 years ago.

But the topic – as well as the chance to also be the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1988 to secure a calendar-year sweep of tennis’s four majors – has been off limits since before the championships.

“I don’t what the pressure of that, and I’m not thinking of that,” Williams maintained after continuing her 11-year mastery of Sharapova.

The all-conquering top seed also enters her 25th grand slam final seeking a 21st major title to close to within one of Graf’s open-era benchmark 22 singles slams.

Standing in her way is the Venezuela-born, Barcelona-raised Muguruza, the world No.20 who upended Williams in last year’s French Open.

It was a chastening defeat that motivated Williams to get even better and the 33-year-old has since embarked on a 27-match grand slam winning streak.

“It was an eye-opening loss for me,” said the reigning US, Australian and French Open champion.

“Some losses you’re angry about and some losses you learn from. That loss I think I learned the most from in a long time.

“I got so much better after that loss. I was able to improve a lot. I worked on things.

“I didn’t see the results straightaway. But months later I started seeing the results more and more.

“I don’t want to lose to anyone at a grand slam.”

HOW THE WOMEN’S WIMBLEDON FINALISTS SHAPE UP AHEAD OF SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWN (11PM AEST):

1-SERENA WILLIAMS (USA) leads 20-GARBINE MUGURUZA (ESP) 2-1

2015 Australian Open, R16, hard, Williams 2-6 6-3 6-2

2014 French Open, R64, clay, Muguruza 6-2 6-2

2013 Australian Open, R64, hard, Williams 6-2 6-0

SERENA WILLIAMS

Age: 33 Born: Saginaw, Michigan, USA

Lives: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA

Height: 175cm

Weight: 70kg

Ranking: 1

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US69,676,428 ($A93.85 million)

Career titles: 66

Career win-loss record: 715-121

Grand slam titles: 20 (Australian Open 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009-10, 2015; French Open 2002, 2013, 2015; Wimbledon 2002-03, 2009-10, 2012; US Open 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012-2014)

Grand slam win-loss record: 189-28

Wimbledon win-loss record: 78-10

Best Wimbledon performances: champion 2002-03, 2009-10, 2012

ROAD TO FINAL

1st rd: bt Margarita Gaspariyan (RUS) 6-4 6-1

2nd rd: bt Timea Babos (HUN) 6-4 6-1

3rd rd: bt Heather Watson (GBR) 6-2 4-6 7-5

4th rd: bt 16-Venus Williams (USA) 6-4 6-3

QF: bt 23-Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 3-6 6-2 6-3

SF: bt 4-Maria Sharapova (RUS) 6-2 6-4

GARBINE MUGURUZA

Age: 21

Born: Caracas, Venezuela

Lives: Barcelona, Spain

Height: 182cm

Weight: 73kg

Ranking: 20

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US2,543,146 ($A3.43 million)

Career titles: 1

Career win-loss record: 221-109

Grand slam titles: 0

Grand slam win-loss record: 23-10

Wimbledon win-loss record: 7-2

Best Wimbledon performances: finalist 2015

ROAD TO FINAL

1st rd: bt Varvara Lepchencko (USA) 6-4 6-1

2nd rd: bt Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO) 6-3 4-6 6-2

3rd rd: bt 10-Angelique Kerber (GER) 7-6 1-6 6-2

4th rd: bt 5-Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) 6-4 6-4

QF: bt 15-Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) 7-5 6-3

SF: bt 13-Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) 6-2 3-6 6-3

Libya’s rival factions set to sign deal

Libya’s rival factions have agreed to December 16 as a target date for signing a United Nations-backed national unity government agreement, the UN envoy says.

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The UN has been negotiating for a year to get Libya’s two rival governments and armed factions to end a conflict that has plunged the North African state into chaos four years after rebellion ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

Successfully signing an agreement would open the way for the international community to support Libya in the fight against Islamic State, which has gained ground in the chaos and controls the western city of Sirte.

But hardliners in both camps have been resisting signing a deal and several past deadlines to sign have failed after opponents baulked at details or demanded more concessions.

UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler on Friday praised representatives of both factions for announcing the agreement in Tunisia after two days of talks, though he acknowledged any new government would need to address many problems.

For a year, Tripoli has been controlled by an armed faction called Libya Dawn, a coalition of former rebel brigades from Misrata and other armed factions in the capital, after they battled to force out rivals.

They set up a self-styled government and reinstated the old parliament, known as the General National Congress. The internationally-recognised government and the elected House of Representatives was forced to operate out of the east of the country.

Both factions are backed by loose alliances of former rebel brigades, tribal fighters and former Gaddafi soldiers, including General Khalifa Haftar, who has been appointed armed forces commander by the government in the east, but is despised by the Tripoli faction.

U2’s The Edge gets nod for Malibu homes

U2 guitarist The Edge has won approval to build five hilltop homes in the California celebrity enclave of Malibu despite opposition from environmentalists who fear it will endanger crucial wildlife corridors for such animals as mountain lions and bobcats.

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The Edge, whose real name is David Evans, and his team bought the property in 2005 and since then he has pursued regulatory approval from the California Coastal Commission to be able to eventually build on the site and live there.

The unanimous vote by the Coastal Commission at a meeting in Monterey, in central California, to approve the 2.1-hectare project in the exclusive beach community just outside Los Angeles marked a reversal from its 2011 decision to reject the project.

The project must next go before officials in Malibu and Los Angeles County to obtain permits.

A statement from The Edge’s project team said the latest design takes up 43 per cent less space than the one rejected in 2011 and would be built on a lower plateau, instead of high on the ridgeline. Each home will have a footprint of less than 929 square metres, it said.

Staff members on the commission had suggested the proposed configuration for the project that was approved on Thursday, said Noaki Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the commission.

A report from staff members for the commission said the project is “designed to avoid or minimise significant disruption” of natural habitats.

But despite those changes, environmental groups and lawmakers such as state senator Fran Pavley, a Democrat who often speaks in favour of green measures, opposed the development, saying it would infringe on wildlife.

State and federal park agencies are working with the National Wildlife Federation to invest millions of dollars to preserve corridors in the area for animals such as mountain lions and bobcats, Pavley said in a letter this month.

As a result, creating an island of homes within the area will “have potentially disastrous consequences”, she added.

Pavley and environmental group Heal the Bay also opposed the Coastal Commission’s holding of the meeting in Monterey, 402km north of Malibu, saying it was too far away for people affected by the project to attend.

The Edge and his development team have dedicated 57 hectares of their land in Malibu as open space, officials said.

No cheer as China yuan hits 4-1/2-year low

World stocks were on the brink of a two-month low, as beaten-down oil prices and a slide in China’s yuan to four-and-a-half year lows left markets in a sombre mood.

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Volatile oil markets and worries about China, the world’s biggest commodities consumer, have pressured many markets ahead of a widely anticipated interest rate rise by the US Federal Reserve next week.

MSCI’s world stock index fell for a fifth straight day as emerging markets tumbled again and European shares opened at a two-month low while the dollar steadied.

“We are in risk-off mode,” said Piotr Matys, emerging market currency strategist at Rabobank in London.

“Another round of selling in commodities with oil prices at new lows has sent global stocks lower and emerging market commodity currencies are under pressure.”

The Russian rouble tumbled 2 per cent against the dollar, with focus on a meeting of the Russian central bank later on Friday.

Investors were also waiting for US data which could cement expectations that the Fed is gearing up to raise rates for the first time in a decade next week.

US retail sales, inflation and consumer sentiment data is due between 1330 GMT and 1500 GMT.

European shares fell 0.7 per cent, declining for a fourth straight session, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan hit a two-month low and posted a weekly loss of just over 3 per cent.

China’s yuan fell to its weakest in four-and-a-half years at 6.4564 per US dollar and posted its longest weekly losing streak in a decade, dragging emerging Asian currencies lower, on concerns about its slowing economy and expectations of a US rate rise next week.

Lower daily fixings for the currency by China’s central bank have also raised questions about how far Beijing intends to let the currency depreciate.

“A US rate hike would have a major impact on money flows out of emerging markets including Hong Kong and China,” said Linus Yip, chief strategist at First Shanghai Securities.

“Also, if the yuan continues to depreciate, that’s negative to stocks as well, because it means investors are not confident about China’s economic restructuring.”

Chinese shares closed lower ahead of a spate of economic data scheduled to be released on Saturday.

China’s economy is on track to post about 7 per cent annual growth in 2015, an official at the country’s top economic planner said at a briefing on Friday.

Crude oil prices remained at levels not seen since early 2009 as output in the Middle East continued to rise despite an already huge global glut.

Brent crude futures were down 0.5 per cent at $US39.52 a barrel, not far off almost seven-year lows hit earlier in the session at $US39.38 a barrel.

The sharp fall in oil prices since OPEC said last week it would keep production high has fuelled expectations for lower inflation, helping push down European government bond yields.

The dollar index, which tracks the US currency against a basket of six major rivals, edged down slightly. It was on track for a weekly loss of about 0.5 per cent after investors trimmed dollar-long positions before the Fed meeting.

Fed fund futures place an 85 per cent chance of the Fed raising rates at its December 15-16 meeting. A recent Reuters poll also showed that all but one of 18 brokerages that deal directly with the Fed expect a rate increase.

The euro edged up about 0.2 per cent to $US1.0965, after comments from the European Central Bank’s Ewald Nowotny this week raised doubts about the extent to which US and European monetary policy will diverge.

Emerging market stocks were down for an eighth day running and on course for their worst week since September.

South Africa’s rand hit a new record low following the abrupt dismissal this week of respected Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene.

Hundreds of rapes, murders reported in CAR

Nearly 800 cases of rape, torture and murder were committed over eight months in Central African Republic, mostly by armed groups, according to a report by the UN mission MINUSCA.

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The sheer volume of abuses points to the difficulties that new leaders are likely to face in restoring order to one of Africa’s most historically unstable countries.

Central African Republic is due to hold elections on December 27, ending a fragile two-year transition marked by inter-communal violence that pitted militants drawn from the Christian majority against mostly Muslim armed groups.

MINUSCA’s first human rights report, released on Friday, said 775 violations and abuses affecting at least 785 victims were committed between September 15, 2014, and May 31 – a period that followed a 2013 coup and is widely seen as calm by local standards.

Violence has recently intensified again, with more than 130 people killed since late September, although fighting halted briefly during the Pope’s visit last month.

“Serious challenges remain given the lack of progress towards the disarmament of armed groups and the absence of a functioning state authority in much of the territory,” said the 25-page report, based on testimonies from victims and witnesses.

The population of internally displaced people were among the most affected by the violence, particularly elderly women and children, the report said.

Many of the country’s nearly 450,000 displaced live in enclaves beyond the reach of state authorities and French and UN peacekeepers, some in fiefdoms controlled by warlords.

Musa Gassama, director of MINUSCA’s human rights division, urged authorities to change what the report called a “firmly rooted” culture of impunity in the former French colony.

While the UN said that around 24 arrests have been made based partly on information from the report, a planned Special Criminal Court has yet to materialise because it lacks funding.

The UN also called on Central African authorities to urgently deploy civil servants, including magistrates, throughout the territory “in order to re-establish state authority and the rule of law”.

Anonymous targets Trump over anti-Muslim comments

The website for the 68-story Trump Towers (trumptowerny.

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com), often used for his presidential campaign, was down after a tweet from an account associated with the anonymous hacking collective that said: “Trump Towers NY site taken down as statement against racism and hatred.杭州桑拿,trumptowerny杭州桑拿会所,/(what you see is cloudflare offline backup)”

Earlier this week, a handle claiming to be “Anonymous Operations” posted a video on YouTube with the message: “The more the United States appears to be targeting Muslims, not just radical Muslims, you can be sure that ISIS will be putting that on their social media campaign.”

The post added, “Donald Trump think twice before you speak anything. You have been warned Mr. Donald Trump.”

A spokesperson for Trump Towers was not available for comment.

The group’s warning to Trump came days after the outspoken billionaire proposed to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States in response to last week’s shooting spree in San Bernardino by two Muslims who the FBI said had been radicalized.

A recent poll by New York Times/CBS News showed Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept 11, 2001. A gnawing sense of dread has helped lift Trump to a new high among Republicans who will vote in primaries to choose their party’s nominee for the November 2016 presidential election.

Anonymous, a loose-knit international network of activist hackers, or “hacktivists,” is famous for launching cyber attacks on groups such as the Islamic State following the attacks in Paris last month that killed 129 people. 

Accused Syd terror teen in jail till Feb

Australia’s youngest-ever terrorism suspect will spend two months behind bars after being refused bail in a Sydney court.

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The 15-year-old schoolboy is accused of exchanging hundreds of calls and texts in 2014 with a group of men allegedly plotting terror attacks on key government buildings including federal police headquarters.

The boy’s distraught family vowed to fight for his release after he was refused bail in the Parramatta Children’s Court on Friday.

His lawyer also confirmed his client would appeal the decision.

The teenager will remain in jail until February 5 when his matter is due before the courts.

One of his co-accused, 20-year-old Ibrahim Ghazzawy, will also remain in custody after not applying for bail in Campbelltown Local Court on Friday.

Ghazzawy is expected to face court by videolink on January 20.

Police had kept both Ghazzawy and the boy under surveillance for at least 18 months and allege that in one 2014 text the boy used the word “banana” as a code word for “firearm”.

“I am going to get to paradise through banana. God is great, no God but Allah,” the text read.

He also spoke of his uncle’s “banana” licence and spoke of going to check out some “bananas”, the court heard.

Court documents reveal the group of accused terror conspirators allegedly used “party” as code for meeting or terrorist attack and “wedding date” for the date of the attack.

Members of the group are accused of gathering firearms and ammunition in preparation for the attacks.

Police raided the accused’s house in December 2014 and allegedly seized photos of the boy brandishing a firearm, as well as photos saved to his phone of beheadings and Islamic extremists.

Putin says Russia backs Free Syrian Army alongside Assad troops

His statement appeared to be the first time Moscow said it was actually supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents in the fight against Islamic State forces.

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Putin said last month the Russian air force had hit several “terrorist” targets identified by the Free Syrian Army.

A few hours later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin had been talking about weapons supplies to the armed forces loyal to Assad.

But Peskov did not say Putin had been mistaken or misquoted about supplies to the Free Syrian Army and did not deny weapons were going to the opposition force.

Western and Arab states carrying out air strikes against Islamic State for more than a year say that Russian jets have mainly hit other rebel forces in the west of Syria.

“The work of our aviation group assists in uniting the efforts of government troops and the Free Syrian Army,” Putin told an annual meeting at the defense ministry. 

“Now several of its units numbering over 5,000 troops are engaged in offensive actions against terrorists, alongside regular forces, in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa,” he said, referring to the Free Syrian Army.

“We support it from the air, as well as the Syrian army, we assist them with weapons, ammunition and provide material support.”

When asked if Putin had been speaking about the Free Syrian Army, Peskov replied: “Please do not cling to meanings in this case. Such an interpretation is possible.”

“Russia supplies weapons to the legitimate authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic,” he said.

Putin said strikes by Russia’s air force and navy had inflicted heavy damage on the infrastructure of Islamic State, which controls large areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, however, that the influence of Islamic State was increasing in Syria, where militants control roughly 70 percent of the country.

The number of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria is about 60,000, Shoigu said, and there is a threat of violence spilling over into post-Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Talking to his generals, Putin issued a veiled warning to Turkey, whose downing of a Russian bomber jet near the Syrian-Turkish border last month sent bilateral relations to a freezing point and led Moscow to impose economic sanctions to Istanbul.

“I want to warn those who may again try to stage provocations against our troops,” he said.

“I order you to act in an extremely tough way. Any targets threatening Russia’s (military) group or our land infrastructure must be immediately destroyed,” Putin told the generals.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday called on Russia for calm, but said Turkey’s patience is not unlimited. 

Assad: Syria prepared to negotiate

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says his government is willing to negotiate as long as terrorist organisations are not a party to the talks.

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“We are ready today to start the negotiations with the opposition. But it depends on the definition of opposition,” Assad said in an exclusive interview with EFE in Damascus.

“Opposition, for everyone in this world, doesn’t mean militant. There’s a big difference between militants, terrorists and opposition,” Assad said.

His remarks coincided with an announcement on Thursday by Syria’s main political and armed opposition factions gathered in Saudi Arabia, in which they expressed their support for the launching of UN-mediated peace talks with representatives of Assad’s government.

Those groups also agreed to form a delegation that would represent the opposition in future negotiations aimed at achieving a political solution to the Syrian conflict, which erupted in March 2011.

Asked about his government’s willingness to negotiate with the opposition starting on January 1, a target date established at a meeting of major world powers last month in Vienna, Assad said that “since the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, we adopted the dialogue approach with every party that is involved in the Syrian conflict”.

But he added that “we’ve been seeing that some countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United States and some Western countries, wanted the terrorist groups to join these negotiations”.

“They want the Syrian government to negotiate with the terrorists, something I don’t think anyone would accept in any country.”

Preliminary NZ flag choice revealed

The black and blue Southern Cross silver fern design is the preliminary favourite to go up against the current New Zealand flag at a referendum in March.

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New Zealand’s chosen flag to go up against the current flag is the black and blue Southern Cross silver fern design, preliminary referendum results show.

It will go up against the present flag in a second referendum in March next year.

Voting for the five designs closed on Friday.

Preliminary results released by the Electoral Commission put the favoured flag with 50.53 per cent of the votes. Its close rival, the blue and red Southern Cross silver fern, gained 49.47 per cent.

The commission sent out 3.1 million voting forms and 48.16 per cent, 1.5 million, were returned.

There were 148,022 informal votes totalling 9.7 per cent, and 2476 invalid votes totalling 0.16 per cent.

Referendum forms showed pictures of the five flags and asked voters to rank them in order of preference.

Voting began on November 20. The official result will be announced on Tuesday and include votes NZ Post date-stamped before voting closed.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says the result shows strong public interest in the future of the nation’s flag.

“While this is a preliminary result, New Zealanders can now turn their attention to deciding whether to keep the current flag, or replace it.”

It was Prime Minister John Key’s decision to put a flag change in front of voters and let them decide.

More than 10,000 entries, including flags bearing the native kiwi bird and sheep, were whittled down to a short-list of five and the vote on Friday is aimed at settling on the favourite.

The campaign has been fiercely criticised by opposition parties.

Those seeking change say the flag is too closely tied to New Zealand’s history as a British colony and looks far too much like Australia’s flag.

But people opposed to change say wars have been fought and New Zealanders have died under the current flag.

“I think it’s an absolute waste of tax-payers money and I can’t see any benefit to it,” said Wellington resident Sue Parrott.

“I have no problem with the current flag, it’s part of our heritage.”

How New Zealanders ranked the flags: 

1) Black and blue Southern Cross silver fern – 552,827

2) Blue and red Southern Cross silver fern – 574,364

3) Red peak – 119,672

4) Black and white silver fern – 77,802

5) Black and white koru – 51,879

Source: Electoral Commission preliminary first preference referendum votes

Australia ‘not yet welcome’ in climate alliance

Extended coverage: COP21

Australia has not yet been welcomed into a new “high ambition coalition” of 100 nations at major climate talks in Paris, despite claiming it had joined through the European Union.

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Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum revealed the alliance of around 100 countries, including the United States, earlier this week at the United Nations summit.

Australia was not among them and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was seemingly unaware of the group when it was revealed on Wednesday.

Mr de Brum – who spearheaded the alliance – issued an open invitation to countries in Paris with the caveat “bring your credentials with you”.

A spokeswoman for Ms Bishop on Friday confirmed Australia had now been formally invited by the European Union and had accepted the invitation.

However, it appears Australia hasn’t yet been welcomed into the group, with the Marshall Islands hinting the country would have to prove its worth.

“We are delighted to learn of Australia’s interest and look forward to hearing what more they may be able to do to join our coalition of high ambition here in Paris,” a spokesman for Mr de Brum said in a statement.

Earlier on Friday, Mr de Brum read out a list of countries that had accepted his open invitation, with Australia notably absent.

The headline act was Brazil, which is one quarter of another alliance with large developing economies India, China and South Africa.

Canada which, like Australia, has been criticised for a lack of climate action in recent years, joined on Thursday. Both countries have recently installed new prime ministers.

Australia had held out on joining the coalition despite supporting its intentions, saying it was focusing attention elsewhere in Paris.

The group calls for a strong climate agreement and bridges the historical divide between rich and poor and large and small countries.

It involved 25 ministers who negotiated on behalf of 97 countries, the spokesman said.

“The list is constantly expanding as more ministers reach out directly to Minister de Brum and affirm their personal commitment to achieving the strongest possible deal here in Paris.”

Mr de Brum told media he would be meeting with Ms Bishop.

The Marshall Islands said the alliance’s four major demands were a “single package” and would not be traded off for one another.

In the latest iteration of the text many of their demands were met, including an aspirational goal to limit global warming below the previously agreed 2C.

Michael Jacobs, who was special advisor to former British prime minister Gordon Brown, believes the coalition could be a significant force in the negotiations.

Whether it was a game changer would be seen once a deal was signed, he told AAP. It’s hoped the historic climate agreement will be forged over the weekend.

WHAT THEY WANT

* Reference to limiting global warming to 1.5C (is in the text)

* Clear path towards a low carbon future (emissions neutrality by second half of century in text)

* Five yearly updates (is in the text)

* Strong package of financial support for developing nations ($100 billion per year plus scale up after 2020 is an option in the text – could be removed)