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'Message ... to the world': 99.8 percent of Falkland Islanders vote to retain British rule

Falkland Islanders voted almost unanimously to remain part of Britain. Union Jack flags were abundant, and many people turned out in British red white and blue. Bill Neely reports from Argentina.

STANLEY, Falkland Islands -- Residents of the Falkland Islands voted almost unanimously to stay under British rule in a referendum aimed at winning global sympathy as Argentina intensifies its sovereignty claim, results showed on Monday.

The official count showed 99.8 percent of islanders voted in favor of remaining a British Overseas Territory in the two-day referendum, which was rejected by Argentina as a meaningless publicity stunt. Only three "no" votes were cast.

"Surely this must be the strongest message we can get out to the world," said Roger Edwards, one of the Falklands assembly's eight elected members.

"(The message is) that we are content, that we wish to retain the status quo ... with the right to determine our own future and not become a colony of Argentina."

Javier Lizon / EPA

Falkland Islanders celebrate in Port Stanley on Monday. Of the 1,517 ballots cast, just three were against the motion to remain a British overseas territory.

Pro-British feeling is running high in the barren and blustery islands that lie off the tip of Patagonia, and turnout was 92 percent among the 1,649 Falklands-born and long-term residents registered to vote.

Three decades since Argentina and Britain went to war over the far-flung South Atlantic archipelago, residents have been perturbed by Argentina's increasingly vocal claim over the Malvinas -- as the islands are called in Spanish.

Local politicians hope the resounding "yes" vote will help them lobby support abroad, for example in the United States, which has a neutral position on the sovereignty issue.

"We're never going to change Argentina's claim and point of view, but I believe there are an awful lot of countries out there that are sitting on the fence. ... This is going to show them quite clearly what the people think," Edwards added.

'We are British'
The mood was festive as islanders lined up in the cold to vote in the low-key island capital of Stanley during voting, some wearing novelty outfits made from the red, white and blue Union Jack flag.

"We are British, and that's the way we want to stay," said Barry Nielsen, who wore a Union Jack hat to cast his ballot at the town hall polling station in Stanley, where most of the roughly 2,500 islanders live.

Argentina's fiery left-leaning president, Cristina Fernandez, has piled pressure on Britain to negotiate the sovereignty of the islands, something London refuses to do unless the islanders request talks.

Government officials in Buenos Aires questioned the referendum's legitimacy. They say the sovereignty dispute must be resolved between Britain and Argentina and cite U.N. resolutions calling on London to sit down for talks.

Argentina has claimed the islands since 1833, saying it inherited them from the Spanish on independence and that Britain expelled an Argentine population.

Javier Lizon / EPA

A man wearing a Union flag suit dances as he casts his vote in the referendum to decide if the Falkland Islands would remain a British territory.

Falkland islanders, who are enjoying an economic boom thanks partly to the sale of oil and natural gas exploration licenses, say they do not expect Monday's result to sway Argentina.

"Argentina's stance on the Falklands will stay the same," said Stanley resident Craig Paice, wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Our Islands, Our Decision" as he waited to vote on Monday.

"But hopefully the world will now listen and know the people of the Falkland Islands have a voice."

Related:

Argentina slams Olympic ad that sparked row with Britain

UK accuses Argentina of 'threats' and 'harassment' over Falklands

From Jan. 2012: Will Prince William's tour of duty reignite simmering Falklands dispute?