LONDON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Britain accused the Argentine government on Tuesday of talking up a dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands to try to divert voters' attention away from the South American country's severe economic problems.
Tensions in the decades-old feud are running high ahead of 2015 elections due in both countries and have been stirred by a row about over whether Argentina has the right to stop oil and gas firms drilling near the islands.
Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that the spat was being used by Argentina's government to distract voters from domestic financial problems.
"I certainly believe that part of the Kirchner government's rhetoric is to try and create a distraction to the ... huge economic problems they have in Argentina," Simmonds said, referring to the administration of President Cristina Fernandez.
Argentina, South America's third-biggest economy, has long-term high inflation and dwindling foreign currency reserves.
The Falkland Islands, 300 miles off the Argentine coast, are classed as a British Overseas Territory, but Argentina also lays claim to them. More than three decades after Argentina tried to invade the Falklands, the sovereignty debate elicits a nationalistic reaction from voters in both countries.
Although it was unusual for a minister to voice the sentiment, the Foreign Office said Simmonds' remarks were consistent with the government's views on Argentina. The Argentine embassy in London did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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