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Argentina demands UK nuke apology

Kirchner: It is regrettable and monstrous.
Kirchner: It is regrettable and monstrous.

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GENERAL PICO, Argentina (Reuters) -- Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has demanded an apology from Britain for the "monstrous" act of arming its warships with nuclear depth charges during the 1982 Falklands war.

Britain admitted for the first time this week that warships in the task force sent to repel Argentine forces that invaded the disputed archipelago were armed with type WE177 nuclear depth charges.

"It is regrettable and monstrous," Kirchner told reporters who accompanied him on a visit to the town of General Pico in La Pampa province, deep in Argentina's farming heartland 400 miles (650 km) west of Buenos Aires.

"Britain should never have usurped sovereignty over the Malvinas ... I am simply demanding the rights of Argentines and I hope (Prime Minister) Tony Blair understands that and is listening," Kirchner said on Saturday.

"What Argentina needs is for (Britain) to have the decency to make a necessary apology."

Kirchner said he had not yet had the chance to talk personally to Blair about the matter.

Britain's defense ministry said the nuclear weapons never entered the territorial waters of the Falkland Islands -- known in Argentina as the Malvinas -- or any other South American nation and that they were transferred to other ships heading home.

Britain says it was routine for its naval surface ships to carry nuclear weapons during the 1980s. The practice was finally ended in 1993.

But Argentina wants reassurances that no nuclear devices are lying in sunken vessels on the South Atlantic ocean floor.

The Argentine government issued an angry statement on Friday, saying the deployment of nuclear weapons could have had "huge consequences for the inhabitants, natural resources and environment of the region."

Argentina, which has a centuries-old claim to the islands, invaded the Falklands on April 2, 1982. By June 14, Argentine forces had surrendered to British troops.

The war claimed around 1,000 lives - most of them Argentine.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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