Argentina rejects Falklands referendum vote
STANLEY, Falkland Islands (Reuters) – Residents of the Falkland Islands vote on Sunday in a sovereignty referendum aimed at countering Argentina’s increasingly assertive claim over the British-ruled territory.
Diplomatic tension between Britain and Argentina has flared up more than three decades since they went to war over the South Atlantic archipelago, and that has unsettled some of the roughly 2,500 islanders.
With patriotic feelings running high, Falklands-born and long-term residents will cast ballots in the two-day referendum in which they will be asked whether they want to stay a British Overseas Territory.
Officials are expected to announce the result at about 8pm (2300 GMT) after polls close on Monday.
A near-unanimous “yes” vote is likely, prompting Argentina to dismiss the referendum as a meaningless publicity stunt. A high turnout is expected, however, as islanders embrace it as a chance to make their voices heard.
“We hope the undecideds, or the uninformeds, or those countries that might otherwise be prepared to give the nod to Argentina’s sovereignty claim might have pause for thought after the referendum,” said John Fowler, deputy editor of the islands’ weekly newspaper, the Penguin News.
“This is an attempt to say ‘hang on a minute, there’s another side to the story’.”
In the low-key capital of Stanley, referendum posters bearing the Falklands flag and the slogan “Our Islands, Our Choice” adorn front windows. The post office has produced a line of official stamps to mark the occasion.
Some islanders are the descendants of British settlers who arrived eight or nine generations ago and the Falklands retain an unmistakably British character despite a sizeable community of immigrants from Chile and Saint Helena.
Residents say fiery remarks by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, have fueled patriotic sentiment on the islands, which lie nearly 8,000 miles (12,700 km) from London and just a 75-minute flight away from southern Argentina. Tensions have risen with the discovery of commercially viable oil resources in the Falklands basin and Fernandez’s persistent demands for Britain to hold sovereignty talks over the Malvinas, as the islands are called in Spanish. London says it will only agree to negotiations if the islanders want them, which they show no sign of doing.
Timerman said last month the referendum had the “spirit of a public-relations campaign” and the foreign ministry accused Britain of pursuing “irresponsible initiatives in bad faith. This new British attempt to manipulate the Malvinas issue through a vote by the population that it implanted is forcefully rejected by Argentina,” a ministry statement said.