SECAUCUS, N.J. – Anheuser-Busch shareholders voted Wednesday to accept Belgian brewer InBev’s $52 billion buyout of the St. Louis-based company. Anheuser-Busch officials announced the results of the voting during its shareholder meeting.

Owners of more than two-thirds of Anheuser-Busch stock voted for the deal. The 497 million shares cast in favor amounted to 96 percent of all votes, which Anheuser-Busch acclaimed as a strong endorsement. Some shareholders abstained from voting.

Coming after Anheuser-Busch’s board unanimously recommended the $70-a-share offer, the vote was expected to be a formality on the way to completing one of the largest corporate takeovers in history. The deal still awaits regulatory approval in China, the U.K. and the U.S.

Weighing the offer and eventually deciding to support the deal “was a very difficult decision for any board to make,” chief executive August A. Busch IV told the crowd of 150 shareholders. “It was discussed and debated extensively.”

In the end, Anheuser-Busch’s board judged that a tie-up with InBev would be the best option for shareholders, and would lead to a “promising future” for the brewer, Busch said.

Putting Budweiser on an even more global stage – one of InBev’s stated goals – fulfills “the global ambitions of my family,” Busch said. “We are about to sell more beer, to more people, in more countries than any other company in the history of brewing beer.”

When the deal is finalized – expected to happen before the end of the year – Anheuser-Busch’s reign as the biggest independent American brewer will end. The company traces its history as an independent company back five generations, all the way to 1852. That was before the Civil War. This was presumably the final shareholders meeting for the St. Louis-based company, one of the city’s largest employers and best-recognized symbols.

“A bittersweet day,” Busch IV told a reporter as he walked off the stage after the 25-minute meeting.

Several shareholders from New Jersey agreed with him. So, apparently, did Patrick Stokes, the company’s chairman, who shared the stage with Busch.

“I think it’s sad” when a company with as much heritage as Anheuser-Busch loses its independent status, he said. But, he added, “The board of directors represented the shareholders’ interests very well. The board of directors is there for the interests of shareholders.”

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