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Latin America

Falkland Islands vote in sovereignty status referendum

Residents of the Falkland Islands are holding a referendum on whether to remain an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Argentina, which claims sovereignty over the islands, has rejected the vote as "illegal."

Falkland Islanders are expected on Sunday to cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favor of retaining their ties with London in a two-day referendum aimed at gaining international support against Buenos Aires' claims to the South Atlantic archipelago.

Falkland Islands vote on referendum

Some 1,672 residents are eligible to vote in the referendum, which has been organized by the islanders themselves. The Falklands have just 2,563 inhabitants, four-fifths of whom live in the capital, Stanley.

"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 the AFP news agency.

Historic dispute

The status of the Falkland Islands has long been a source of tension between Argentina and the UK. In 1982, Argentinean dictator Leopoldo Galtieri ordered an invasion of the islands, prompting a British military response. The two countries fought a 10-week war, which killed some 650 Argentineans and 255 Britons.

Argentina argues that it inherited the islands, called Islas Malvinas in Spanish, from its former colonial master Spain and that London expelled an Argentinean garrison in 1832. Some Falkland Islanders today are the descendents of British settlers who arrived nine generations ago.

Tensions have risen as the UK has moved to develop oil reserves off the coast of the islands. Oil production could start in 2017.

According to a YouGov poll for Sky News, 24 percent of Argentineans surveyed view the status of the islands as their country's most important foreign policy issue, compared to just one percent of Britons. But 77 percent of Britons think the Falklands' inhabitants should decide the future of the islands, while 60 percent said London should keep military options on the table to protect the archipelago.

slk/dr (AFP,Reuters)

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