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British ambassador riles Argentina with Falklands tweet

By Gerard Couzens and Maxine Frith

Britain's Ambassador to Chile has been forced into issuing a grovelling apology after posting a derogatory football tweet about Argentinians and the Falklands War.

Jon Benjamin meant to send a private direct message to a friend on Twitter but accidentally published it on his main feed, where he has almost 10,000 followers. The message alluded to a popular chant by Chilean fans in which they sing: "Argentinians, gays, they took the Falklands off you because you are cowards."

In the tweet, in Spanish, Mr Benjamin referred to the fact he had secured a ticket for last night's World Cup qualifying match between Chile and Argentina, in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

He added: "What were the islands that they took, from whom and for what reason? Maybe I'll get to know at the National Stadium this Tuesday? I've already got my ticket."

Argentinian newspapers and TV stations immediately picked up on the comment, prompting a flood of complaints and threats from locals. Mr Benjamin, who describes himself as an avid West Ham fan and "Londoner at heart", became ambassador in 2009, having worked for the Foreign Office for 26 years.

One Twitter user threatened to beat him up while another, referring to the Falklands by its Argentinian name, tweeted: "Football folklore is beautiful until people bring in issues stained with blood. This is an insult to all the Argentinians who lost their lives in the Malvinas."

National sports daily Olé labelled him rude, and a Buenos Aires TV station accused him of disrespecting the nation. Some Chileans also criticised him, including the country's former Telecommunications Minister Pablo Bello, who tweeted: "Your comments are in bad taste, ambassador. You don't need to appeal to Chilean nationalist chauvinism to fulfil your diplomatic mission. Doing so reflects badly on you."

Mr Benjamin later removed the tweet and apologised, saying: "I'm sorry I offended with a private message that I published by mistake. I feel great affection for my Argentine friends and respect for their national side."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "Our ambassador to Chile appears to have inadvertently caused some controversy in a tweet. He has deleted it."

Mr Benjamin, 49, was brought up in Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire, and attended Slough Grammar School before reading German and Swedish at the University of Surrey. Chile is his first ambassadorial post.

He began his diplomatic career in 1986 as a junior official in Pakistan, and has also been posted to Indonesia, Turkey, Washington and New York. He is single and describes himself as a "Jewish atheist".


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