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New Zealanders protest at plans to relocate 'Hobbit'

Thousands of New Zealanders took to the country's streets yesterday to protest against possible plans to move production of Peter Jackson's hobbit movies overseas.

With some dressed as hobbits or other characters from Middle Earth, they carried banners saying "New Zealand is Middle Earth" and "We love hobbits", aiming to reassure nervous Hollywood studio executives rattled by a short-lived union boycott.

The rallies were held a day before representatives from Warner Bros were due to arrive in New Zealand to decide where to shoot the lucrative $500m (£318m) film.

Jackson made Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand. He planned to shoot The Hobbit locally as well, but union protests about working conditions unnerved the studio.

To implore Warner Bros to keep the film in New Zealand, a reported 2,000 to 3,000 people gathered in Wellington, while other cities such as Auckland and Christchurch hosted similar rallies.

The Oscar-winning technician Richard Taylor, who handled the special effects for The Lord of the Rings, said he hoped The Hobbit would stay in New Zealand. "The alternative is just too bleak to consider," he said.