By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Britain should spend more helping its own poor than on defending the Falkland Islands, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said on Thursday, responding to a recently-announced budget increase aimed at protecting the contested archipelago.
Britain's government said last week it would reinforce its military presence on the Falklands to counter the "very live threat" posed by Argentina.
Fernandez, in a speech honoring soldiers who died in her country's failed 1982 invasion of the South Atlantic islands, dismissed the idea of Argentina being a threat, telling Britain to focus instead on fighting poverty within its own borders.
"What a paradox," Fernandez chided, "when there are more than one million Britons eating at the food banks they have had to open in one of the most powerful countries in the world."
"Don't worry. Don't spend another pound sterling on defending the Malvinas," she said, using the Argentina term for the Falklands. "Spend your money feeding the English, on providing jobs for your young people and a better quality of life for the British, because we are not a threat to anyone."
Tensions over the Falklands still simmer more than 30 years after Argentine forces seized the islands and Britain sent a task force to retake them in a brief war which saw more than 600 Argentine and 255 British servicemen killed.
Fiery orator Fernandez has stepped up her international campaign to get sovereignty over the islands as oil and gas exploration in the region increases the stakes. She vowed that Argentina would eventually win the Falklands back through diplomatic, not military means.
Earlier on Thursday, in a move Fernandez called "almost provocative", Premier Oil Plc and Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd said they made an oil and gas discovery at a well in the archipelago, the first in a nine-month drilling campaign.
The islands lie 300 miles (480 km) off the Argentine coast and 8,000 miles (12,870 km) from Britain. About 2,800 people live on the islands, where the main industries are sheep farming, fishing and some tourism.
Britain said last week it plans to deploy two Chinook helicopters to the Falklands beginning in mid-2016, upgrade communications and renew the surface-to-air missile defense system which is due to come out of service in 2020.
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein)