Falkland Islands vote in referendum with eye on world

Falkland Islands vote in referendum with eye on world

Falkland Islanders hold a referendum today and tomorrow to send a message to the world that they want to stay British, although Argentina has already dismissed the vote as illegal.

Residents of the windswept archipelago in the South Atlantic have hoisted British and Falklands flags and even created a giant "YES" made of four-wheel drives ahead of the vote.

In a move instigated by residents themselves, 1,672 eligible voters are being asked whether they want the Falklands to remain an internally self-governing British overseas territory.

Argentina and Britain fought a brief but bloody war over the islands in 1982, and diplomatic tensions have escalated in recent years with the discovery of oil near the Falklands.

Britain has held the barren islands since 1833 but Buenos Aires claims what it calls "Las Malvinas" are occupied Argentinian territory.

"We would be deluding ourselves if we thought that Argentina would change overnight, but we hope it'll be a strong message to them and to others," legislative assembly member Jan Cheek, a sixth generation Falkland Islander, told AFP.

Falklanders hope the outcome -- and ideally a big turnout -- will provide a slap in the face to an increasingly bellicose Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner.

They also hope the referendum result will arm them with an unambiguous message to take to other capitals when pressing their case for acceptance on the international stage.
The United States, for example, has studiously avoided taking sides on the issue despite its close ties with Britain.

In the Falklands capital Stanley, television footage showed islanders busy on the eve of the vote hanging bunting with the British Union Jack and the Falklands flag, which is deep blue with the Union Jack in one corner and a crest with a sheep in the middle.

Argentina, 400 kilometres away, has branded the referendum "illegal" because, it claims, the islanders are "implanted" and thus do not have the right to self-determination.
The Argentinian foreign ministry said on Friday that the vote was "a British attempt to manipulate" the status of the archipelago.

The "attempt will not alter the essence of the Falklands or put an end to the sovereignty dispute", it insisted.

London says it will not discuss sovereignty issues with Buenos Aires unless the islanders expressly wish it.

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