Argentine leader refuses to bow over Falklands

Argentine leader refuses to bow over Falklands

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner dismissed a referendum that saw Falkland islanders vote overwhelmingly to remain a British territory, rejecting demands that she accept the outcome.

Kirchner, whose popularity has plummeted under economic woes at home, said the vote in the disputed South Atlantic archipelago was a “parody,” and even the United States, Britain’s firmest ally, acknowledged Argentina’s claim.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had earlier urged the Latin American country to respect the wishes of 99.8 percent of the islanders who voted “yes” to staying a self-governing British territory, according to official results.

The islanders organized the vote in response to increasingly bellicose sovereignty rhetoric by Kirchner, and only three of the 1,517 valid ballots — on 92 percent turnout — were cast against the islands staying under British rule.

Kirchner’s government had dismissed the referendum as meaningless and said it would not affect its claims on the Falklands, it calls them “Las Malvinas,” which it failed to seize back from Britain in a brief but bloody war in 1982.

She reiterated her displeasure late Tuesday at an event at the Casa Rosada presidential mansion.

The United States earlier said it took “note” of the islanders’ vote, but refused once again to take sides in the dispute.

The announcement of the result overnight Monday sparked jubilation in the islands’ tiny capital Stanley, and Cameron said he was “over the moon” at the outcome.

Cameron, who later telephoned the chairman of the islands’ legislative assembly to congratulate him on the result, also warned against any military action by Argentina.

Barry Elsby, a member of the legislative assembly, told AFP from Stanley as the numbers came in that the result “sends a message around the world.”

International observers from Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, the United States and Uruguay monitored the referendum on Sunday and Monday and declared it “free and fair.”

However, Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to London, said the referendum was a “ploy” to detract from the “weakness” of Britain’s claims.

The referendum had sparked huge enthusiasm among the Falkland Islands’ 2,563 permanent residents, four-fifths of whom live in Stanley, with its typically British pubs and red telephone boxes.

The remaining several hundred islanders are scattered in isolated sheep farms and tiny settlements.

London has held the Falklands since 1833 but Buenos Aires says this is an occupation and the British residents are colonial implants with no right to self-determination.

It says the United Nations had issued 40 resolutions calling on Buenos Aires and London to negotiate over sovereignty.

Tensions between the two sides have increased in recent years against a backdrop of the discovery of oil reserves in the waters off the Falklands, the 30th anniversary of the 1982 war and domestic political difficulties facing both governments.