Argentina turned away two Carnival cruise ships linked to Britain on Monday in a move that escalates an ongoing dispute over the Falkland Islands, which Argentina refers to as the Malvinas.

Argentina used a law for the first time that bars vessels linked to Britain from docking in the country. The move was an apparent bid to gain leverage in its sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands, which reached its peak during Argentina's brief war against Britain for control of the islands in 1982.

Early Monday, The Star Princess and Adonia ships were refused entry to Argentina's southernmost city of Ushuaia after stopping at the islands en route to Chile. The decision was made by the provincial governor a month after the Falklands government turned away the same Star Princess, citing health safety reasons, after it had stopped in Argentina.

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Turning away the ships meant losing a big payday for Ushuaia. Taxi drivers, tour operators, wildlife guides and restaurant and boutique workers had arranged to work on Monday's Argentine national holiday to cater to the more than 5,000 passengers.

We are seeking to hit the Brits where it hurts them most: their money. We're aiming to hurt British financial interests until they return the Malvinas to us.

- Juan Vera, a spokesman for the Argentina Veterans Group

But in a marathon meeting that stretched into early Monday, veterans of Argentina's brief war against Britain for control of the islands in 1982 persuaded Gov. Fabiana Rios to enforce a provincial law passed last August that bans British vessels, ships partly owned by British companies and ships flying flags from British territories from docking in Argentina.

"We have verified that British financial interests own these cruise ships," said Juan Vera, a spokesman for the veterans' group. "We are seeking to hit the Brits where it hurts them most: their money. We're aiming to hurt British financial interests until they return the Malvinas to us."

As for the losses to the local tourism industry, Vera said that wasn't his group's concern.

"The tourism executives who feel affected by this should do things better. We don't have any problems with cruise ships flying the flags of France or other countries," Vera said.

The Star Princess was flying the flag of a British territory and is owned by the Miami-based Carnival Corp., which includes British ventures including P&O Cruises, which sails the Adonia out of Southhampton England.

The British foreign office said there was no justification for the action.

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"We are very concerned to hear the Adonia and Star Princess have been refused access to the port of Ushuaia," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "British diplomats in Argentina are urgently seeking to clarify the circumstances surrounding this incident."

The decision was made at 4 a.m. by Rios, an ally of President Cristina Fernández. The Tierra del Fuego province nominally includes the British territories Argentines claim as Las Malvinas, as well as the South Georgia and South Sandwich islands, Argentina's slice of Antarctica, and the seas in between.

In January, Carnival spokeswoman Julie Benson said Princess Cruises was shocked that the Falklands government took the unprecedented step of turning away the Star Princess because a small number of the 3,562 passengers and crew on board had stomach flu after stopping in Ushuaia.

Falklands spokesman Darren Christie said then that the island was ill-equipped to handle a potential norovirus outbreak.

Benson did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday. But P&O Cruises confirmed the Argentine decision, and said it would refund the cost of shore excursions to the passengers.

On the docks in Ushuaia, both the Star Princess and the Adonia were seen passing the port at 6:30 a.m. en route to Punta Arenas, Chile.

Associated Press Writers Michael Warren and Debora Rey in Buenos Aires and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this story.

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