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Thursday, March 11, 1999 Published at 04:06 GMT

World: Americas

Falklands row played down

Prince Charles and President Menem in a show of unity

Argentina's Government is trying to defuse the controversy over comments about the Falklands made by Prince Charles during a visit to Buenos Aires.

Nicholas Witchell reports the "diplomatic sensitivities of Anglo - Argentine relations"
The prince has been strongly criticised for saying he hoped the people of Argentina could "live amicably" alongside the people of the Falklands.

Vice-President Carlos Ruckauf said the prince's attitude was "intolerable".

He said: "The islanders have no right to self-determination as the prince suggested in a typically British trap."

[ image:  ]
Argentina's Foreign Minister, Guido di Tella, has since moved to defuse the row and has distanced the government from the vice-president's comments.

A visit by Prince Charles to a shanty town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, planned for Thursday, has been called off because of fears of his security. Officials will not comment on whether the cancellation was forced on them by the row.

'Spirit of mutual understanding'

The Prince of Wales did not refer to the islands by name in a speech to a banquet on Tuesday, which Mr Ruckauf said he was unable to attend because of other commitments.

The heir to the throne said, in a speech prepared by the Foreign Office: "My hope is that the people of modern democratic Argentina ... will be able in the future to live amicably alongside people of another modern, another smaller democracy living a few hundred miles off your coasts."

He added that the two peoples should embrace "in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect so nobody will again need to feel any fear or hostility toward the each other".

Defusing the row

BBC Royal Correspondent Nicholas Witchell: This visit has re-opened old passions
On Wednesday, Argentina's foreign minister issued a statement suggesting that Prince Charles's words were very welcome and a message to try to calm the islanders after President Menem's successful state visit to Britain last year.

Mr Di Tella said the vice-president's comments were made in a personal capacity.

[ image:  ]
A British Government spokesman said Mr Di Tella had rejected the remarks made by the vice-president.

"We understand that the foreign minister of Argentina has said in Buenos Aires that what the vice-president said was not the view of the Argentine Government and the remarks were made by somebody who was running for election in his own personal capacity," the spokesman said.

Nicholas Witchell: Argentina has difficulty with 'self-determination' for the Falkanders
The prince's officials maintain his remarks were non-political and it would have been ridiculous for him not to have addressed the issue at all.

They say they are surprised at the Argentines' reaction.

[ image: Flashpoint: A Union Flag in flames]
Flashpoint: A Union Flag in flames
Prince Charles' visit is seen as part of an effort to improve relations between the two countries following the 1982 war over South Atlantic islands.

Sovereignty over the Falklands remains a sticking point in bilateral ties, with Argentina continuing to claim them and London regarding the issue as non-negotiable unless the islanders request it.

Riot police in Buenos Aires used tear gas and water cannon on Tuesday night to disperse hundreds of demonstrators angry at the prince's visit.

The demonstrators, a mixture of anarchists and communists, were prevented from getting close to the hotel where the prince was attending the dinner.

Some carried placards saying "Pirate Prince Go Home" and burned Union Flags.

Prince Charles played polo on Wednesday evening and there were no plans for further speeches before he leaves Argentina for Uruguay on Thursday.

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