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Falkland islanders react after hearing the results of the referendum in Stanley, yesterday. Residents voted almost unanimously to stay under British rule in the referendum that has inflamed a long-running sovereignty dispute with Argentina.
London/BUENOS AIRES: British Prime Minister David Cameron has called on Argentina to respect the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands after they voted overwhelmingly for the territory to stay British in an unsurprising but still historical referendum that aims to send a defiant message to Argentina and the outside world.
The prime minister said Argentina should take “careful note” of the referendum result and that Britain would always be there to defend the Falkland Islanders. Despite near zero temperatures and flurries of snow and rain, the turnout was 92 percent from an electorate of 1,650. All but three people voted yes to the question posed on the ballots: “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?”
Argentina yesterday dismissed a two-day long vote in the Falklands as a “ploy” by Great Britain meant to mask the “weakness” London’s claim to the islands. The remarks by Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, Alicia Castro, to local radio in Beunos Aires came a day after residents of the Falkland Islands voted almost unanimously to remain a self-governed British overseas territory.
Castro, who has been Buenos Aires’ main point person on the Falklands vote, told the FM Millenium radio station that the referendum, held on Sunday and Monday, was a “media-focused ploy that reflects the weakness” of Britain’s claim to the islands.
On Monday, speaking to a different Argentine radio station, Castro said the vote had no legitimacy, having been “neither convened nor supervised by the United Nations.”
Nobody expected anything but a landslide in a vote that the Argentinian government had dismissed as illegal. Regardless, the islanders said they were delighted at the strong show of unity at a time when the Falklands are coming under increasing pressure from Buenos Aires and its allies in South America.
“I’m very happy. Everyone has come together to express ourselves,” said Kyle Biggs, who guides tourists to see penguins and battlefield sites from the 1982 war between Britain and Argentina. “I think this is massively significant. It’s important to show how much we want to stay British.”
In Argentina the result was dismissed with angry words by the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. “We must denounce this trickery that pretends to represent the popular participation of an implanted population,” said Senator Daniel Filmus, a close collaborator of the president. “This publicity stunt has no validity for international law.” Argentina’s Senate is preparing to vote this week on a motion to reject the Falklands referendum and reaffirm Argentina’s longstanding claim to the islands it calls Las Malvinas. “The United Kingdom lacks any right at all to pretend to alter the juridical status of these territories even with the disguise of a hypothetical referendum,” said Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timerman.
Another close Kirchner collaborator, Senator Anibal Fernandez, restated the government’s view of the Falklanders as a foreign population living illegally in Argentina. “There will never be self-determination for an implanted population and there is no legal framework for this, the Malvinas are Argentine sovereign soil,” said Fernandez.
Speaking to an Argentinian radio station, the country’s ambassador to London, Alicia Castro, suggested the islands need Argentina to guarantee their survival. “How long can the islanders live isolated from the continent? They are 8,000 miles from London and 500 kilometres from continental Argentina,” Castro told the Buenos Aires radio station La Red.
Cameron insisted that the islanders were entitled to the right to self-determination. “It is the clearest possible result there could be,” he said.
“The Falkland Islands may be thousands of miles away but they are British through and through and that is how they want to stay. People should know we will always be there to defend them.
“We believe in self-determination. The Falkland Islanders have spoken so clearly about their future and now other countries right across the world, I hope, will respect and revere this very, very clear result.”
The Falklands have moved back into the international spotlight due to the 30th anniversary of the war and a push by President Kirchner to reassert her country’s longstanding sovereignty claims. Argentina has raised the issue at the UN and regional bodies, placed full-page advertisements in British newspapers and - most controversially - restricted access to the islands. It has persuaded South American neighbours to turn away Falklands-flagged ships, curtailed overflights and imposed sanctions on companies that exploit the resources of the islands. The islanders have a high degree of legislative autonomy, although they are still under a governor sent by London. They organised their first ever referendum to show their determination to resist what some of them say is a blockade. Guardian/AFP