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Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 06:19 GMT

World: Americas

Puerto Rico rejects US statehood

Pro-statehood supporters dismissed the result

Voters in Puerto Rico have rejected a proposal to become the 51st state of America.

The BBC's Peter Greste reports on the third vote on this issue in 30 years
In Sunday's referendum, over half the islanders voted to remain as a US commonwealth - a free association giving residents limited rights, including US citizenship.

The governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Rossello, who backed full statehood, dismissed the outcome as a protest vote against his administration.

[ image: Just over half voted to stay out of the US]
Just over half voted to stay out of the US
He said the result was a strong endorsement of his proposals for closer ties with the United States, and announced his intention to travel to Washington to inform President Clinton of the result.

Campaigners for full statehood had said it would end decades of inequality. But opponents feared American mass culture would swallow up the island's identity.

High turnout

The referendum attracted a high turnout with officials estimating about 75% of Puerto Rico's 2.2 million registered voters cast their ballot.

Correspondent Peter Greste: Slim majority happy with status quo
In San Juan, thousands of voters gathered at political parties' headquarters, dancing, eating and drinking at street parties.

On the highways, people drove cars with US and Puerto Rican flags and campaign banners flapping from windows.

The vote comes a century after the US seized the island as a spoil of the Spanish-American war.

Third vote

[ image: Commonwealth supporters celebrate victory]
Commonwealth supporters celebrate victory
Under the commonwealth arrangement adopted in 1952, Puerto Rico's 3.8 million people are US citizens and serve in the military, which maintains a strategic presence on the island.

But they do not pay federal taxes or vote for president or Congress.

The island does have a delegate in the US House of Representatives, but he can only vote in committee.

This is the third time Puerto Ricans have voted on their status. At the last vote in 1993, 48% chose to retain their commonwealth status and 46% wanted full statehood.

The island's GNP is estimated at about $8,000 per capita - about a third that of the mainland US and half that of the poorest state.

The federal government spends about $10bn per year in aid and investment in Puerto Rico.

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