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New Zealand’s Ardern bids an emotional farewell on her final day as Prime Minister


WELLINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Jacinda Ardern said an emotional farewell on Tuesday in her final day as prime minister, talking about the kindness and empathy New Zealanders have shown her but saying she was ready to be a sister and a mother.

Days after stunning the world by announcement she had “no more in the tank” to lead the country and was about to step down, the 42-year-old arrived at a gathering of politicians and Maori elders in the small town of Ratana, north of the capital Wellington, and was immediately surrounded by supporters seeking photographs.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the greatest privilege of my life,” Ardern told the crowd in a speech.

She will resign on Wednesday and be replaced by new Labor leader Chris Hipkins.

Ardern, along with Hipkins and opposition politicians, was on an annual visit to Ratana, where a week-long celebration of the birth of Maori prophet Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana is taking place.

Dressed in a black dress with shoulders draped in a traditional Maori cloak called a korowai, she led members of her group into the community grounds as a brass band played. The speeches and accompanying song and dance that followed saw elders speak with humor and warmth about Ardern.

“Thank you so much for teaching us to love fast,” one elder told Ardern.

Ardern responded by saying she had not planned to speak but that those there had refused to let her in.

“My overall experience of this New Zealand work and New Zealanders in this work has been one of love, empathy and kindness,” she said.

The left global icon drew attention for bringing her baby to a UN meeting and wearing a hijab after a massacre targeting Muslims. Despite becoming the target of hate and online abuse from right-wing extremists on social media, she said she was leaving the job with love in her heart.

“I want you to know that I leave with a greater love and affection for Aotearoa New Zealand and its people than when I started.”

Before heading to the field, Ardern faced the media for what was likely to be her last time as prime minister, smiling broadly as she refused to answer policy questions, saying they were now the responsibility of her successor.

“I’m ready to be many things. I am ready to be a back MP (MP). I am ready to be a sister and a mother,” she said.

Her daughter Neve is 4 years old and starts school in June.

Hipkins, the country’s former COVID minister, was sole nominee to take over as leader of the Labor Party. He was first elected as a member of parliament in 2008.

Reporting by Lucy Cramer; editing by Praveen Menon and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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