Falkland Islanders remember and mourn Thatcher as their liberator

BUENOS AIRES (REUTERS) - The head of The Falkland Islands' assembly said the death of Margaret Thatcher was a day of great sadness for the islanders, who would always revere her for liberating the South Atlantic territory after the 1982 invasion by Argentinian forces.

Another islander praised her as "our Winston Churchill".

Mrs Thatcher sent a task force to recapture the islands, known in Argentina as Las Malvinas, in an operation she considered one of the triumphs of her rule.

Argentina still pushes its claim and in the past year has stepped up its rhetoric against Britain despite a referendum last month in which the islander's overwhelmingly voted to stay British.

"There's absolutely no doubt that Mrs. Thatcher had a special feeling for the Islands, she led a very difficult recapture of the Islands, she was very happy to have restored freedom to the people of the Falkland Islands and the Falklands were always in her heart," Mike Summers, chair of the Falklands' eight-member legislative assembly, told Reuters by telephone from Port Stanley.

"She's a very much revered person in the Falklands for leading our return to freedom in 1982, and it will be a day of great sadness for Falkland Islanders."

Flags flew at half-staff on the Falklands when news was announced that Mrs Thatcher had died on Monday aged 87. Mr Summers said a memorial service would be held but it was yet clear when.

Mr Summers, who had met Mrs Thatcher several times, said: "She was a very powerful lady and a very powerful politician, very clear and very decisive."

About 650 Argentinians and 255 Britons were killed in the 1982 war, which started with the Argentinian invasion on April 2 and and ended with the recapture of Port Stanley by British troops on June 14 Argentina's current president, Cristina Fernandez, has piled pressure on Britain to negotiate the sovereignty of the islands - something London refuses to do unless the islanders themselves request talks.

Tim Miller, 60, owner of a Falkland Islands garden centre and store which sells patriotic gifts and memorabilia, said he remembered the 1982 conflict clearly.

"For me, she was for the Falklands what Winston Churchill was to Great Britain in 1940. She was the right person in the right place at the right time and did the right thing."

Mr Miller acknowledged that she was a divisive figure in Britain.

"But to the Falklands she was our Winston Churchill."

A road on the main island is named Margaret Thatcher Drive in her honour.

Mr Miller said he met her when she visited The Falklands in 1983.

"Just in a five-minute discussion with her, she knew all the current issues facing the Falklands, she knew the issues of Falkland agriculture and sheep farming and the way people lived."

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