Falklands referendum: Voters choose to remain UK territory

Falkland islanders celebrate referendum result There was a turnout of more than 90% from 1,672 British citizens eligible to vote in a population of about 2,900.

The people of the Falkland Islands have voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining a UK overseas territory.

Of 1,517 votes cast in the two-day referendum - on a turnout of more than 90% - 1,513 were in favour, while just three votes were against.

It follows pressure from Argentina over its claims to the islands, 31 years after the Falklands War with the UK.

The UK government welcomed the result and urged "all countries" to accept it and respect the islanders' wishes.

The referendum had asked: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"

'Wish them success'

There was a turnout of more than 90% from 1,672 British citizens eligible to vote in a population of about 2,900.

Nigel Haywood, governor of the Falkland Islands, said: "Obviously it is a major principle of the United Nations that a people have their right to self-determination, and you don't get a much clearer expression of the people's self-determination than such a large turnout and such a large 'yes' vote."

Analysis

Amongst a sea of union jacks and a chorus of Land of Hope and Glory, there was no doubting the sentiment as jubilant Falkland islanders gathered in Stanley to celebrate their unity over their future, and a referendum that showed 99.8% in favour of remaining British.

These may be small islands almost 8,000 miles from the UK, but they have just spoken with a loud voice in favour of retaining those historic ties. The islanders' hope is that their voices will be listened to all the way to Buenos Aires and beyond - not least by other nations and capitals that Argentina has been seeking to convince of its claims.

The three people who voted 'no' were presumably not amongst the crowds of voters, although it's not clear whether they voted 'no' in favour of Argentina, or because they favoured independence for the islands.

What really stung here was a recent comment by the Argentine foreign minister that the islanders' wishes didn't count because they were what he termed an "implanted" population. Though Argentina may not change its mind today, many islanders hope they've shown that their wishes do need to be heard in any debate over their future - and do count.

Dick Sawle, a member of the island's legislative assembly, said it was an "absolutely phenomenal result which will send out the strongest possible message to the rest of the world about our right to self-determination - a right that was fought for in 1982, and which we have honoured tonight."

Islanders had "very, very clearly said they wish to remain as a British overseas territory with those rights", he said, and it would "be our job now as a government to get that message out to the rest of the world and every country that will listen to us".

He added: "What is very clear is that these islands never have belonged to Argentina; what is also extremely clear to me here, and from the results that we heard tonight, is that they never will do."

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "We have always been clear that we believe in the rights of the Falklands people to determine their own futures and to decide on the path they wish to take. It is only right that, in the 21st Century, these rights are respected.

"All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy. I wish them every success in doing so."

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has maintained that the Falkland islanders' wishes are not relevant in what is a territorial issue.

Most Argentines regard the islands, which they call Las Malvinas, as Argentine and their recovery is enshrined in the national constitution.

'Big news'

Journalist Celina Andreassi, of the Argentina Independent, said: "The majority of people here agree with the official position that the issue is not about self-determination and it is not about whether the islanders consider themselves British or not - because obviously everyone knows that they do and that they are British.

The announcement of the referendum result

"The issue for most people here is whether the territory is Argentine or British, not the people themselves."

Carolina Barros, editor of the Buenos Aires Herald, said the referendum result was "quite a blow and big news for any Argentine saying that the Malvinas islands belong to Argentina, or that the islanders living there are an implanted population".

"I don't think it's going to change the mind of the government," she said. "It might change the mind of the Argentines.

"Most of the Argentines think that the territory, the land, belongs to the Argentine map. But most of the Argentines, I think, think that the islanders are entitled to believe or feel themselves like the true inhabitants of the islands after almost nine generations."

Election observers from different countries oversaw the vote, including representatives of Chile and Mexico - despite an Argentine request for Latin American countries not to take part.

Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982. The garrison of the UK's Royal Marines was overwhelmed and other British South Atlantic territories including South Georgia were also seized.

In two months of fighting after the UK military responded, 255 British and about 650 Argentine servicemen were killed, along with three Falklands civilians, before Argentine forces surrendered.

Argentina says it inherited the islands from the Spanish crown in 1767 and the islands were seized by Britain in 1833, but the UK says it had long previously established a settlement there and never relinquished sovereignty.

It says it has continuously inhabited and administered the islands since 1833.

BBC The Falkland Islands and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are British Overseas Territories

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