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Controversy after Pope Francis is photographed holding Falklands sign

In this picture taken on Wednesday, Pope Francis holds a placard reading 'It's time for dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom for Falklands' (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis has been drawn into the dispute over the Falkland Islands after being photographed holding an Argentine sign calling for dialogue on the islands’ future.

The sign said in Spanish: “It’s time for dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom on the Falklands.”

The photo, taken at the general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, has appeared in South American media and was tweeted by Argentine president Cristina Kirchner.

A Vatican spokesman told the BBC that “during the general audience many people hand the Pope different items” and “so there is no endorsement of what was written”.

But Gustavo Hoyo, the leader of a group pushing for dialogue on the islands who gave the sign to the Pope, told an Argentine newspaper: “When he [the Pope] passed by, I explained what this was about and he kindly took the placard and got the picture taken.

“He could have chosen not to do it, but he did.”

The islands, which were invaded by Argentina in 1982, at the cost of 649 Argentine and 255 British lives, have been British since 1833 but are claimed by Argentina, despite the 2,000 strong population overwhelmingly opposing Argentine rule.

In 2013 President Kirchner asked her compatriots Francis to intervene to start a dialogue between the countries.