Greenlanders vote for more independence

Greenlanders have voted overwhelmingly in favour of increasing their independence from Denmark, a move that gives them control over potential oil revenues off their large Arctic coast.

Greenlanders have voted overwhelmingly in favour of increasing their independence from Denmark, a move that gives them control over potential oil revenues off the large Arctic island.

Seventy-six per cent of voters cast their referendum ballot in favour of self-rule, paving the way for more rights to natural resources as well as control over the courts, the police force and to some extent foreign affairs.

It also makes the Inuit language of Greenlandic the official language of the small, largely Inuit nation.

Greenland Premier Hans Enoksen put his fists up in the air in a sign of victory when it became clear the referendum would win as results rolled in on Tuesday.

"The tears are running down my cheeks," said Enoksen. "We have said 'yes' to the right of self-determination, and with this we have accepted a great responsibility."

The referendum, done with the support of Denmark, is expected to be approved by both parliaments and go into effect on June 21, the island's national day.

The plan would see Denmark phase out its 3.5-billion kroner ($588-million U.S.) annual subsidy to Greenland, which accounts for about two-thirds of the island's economy.

Drilling unsuccessful

Oil and gas drilling in the deep ocean off Greenland's west coast resumed in 2001, three decades after previous efforts to find petroleum failed. So far the drilling has been unsuccessful.

The plan would give Greenland the first 75 million kroner ($12.6 million) of annual oil revenue, with any income beyond that shared equally between the two.

The current agreement states that the first 500 million kroner ($84 million) of oil revenue should be shared equally, and that the division of any amount beyond that must be negotiated.

A high percentage of the glacial island's 40,000 voters — 72 per cent — turned up at polling booths despite frigid temperatures in many parts of the country.

But not everyone was thrilled by the results. Aka Maria Koch Hansen, 21, and her friends were among the 24 per cent who voted No to self-rule.

She said she worries that the sparsely populated nation is already dealing with a slew of problems, including suicide and substance abuse, and shouldn't be taking on the added responsibilities that come with independence.

'Big alcohol problem'

"Many people drink and have a big alcohol problem and many children go hungry to bed," Hansen told CBC News. "I don't think it's a nice foundation to build an independent country on." 

More than 200 years after first becoming a Danish colony, Greenland was granted self-government in 1979 and received its own parliament and government as well as self-determination in health care, schools and social services.

Copenhagen, however, maintained control of foreign and military affairs and Denmark's Queen Margrethe is the head of state.

Aqquluk Lynge, president of Inuit Circumpolar Council Greenland, however, said casting the Yes ballot was an emotional moment and called it a victory for Inuit that goes beyond Greenland's border.

"It's also very big step toward the recognition of all Inuit in the world, in the Arctic that we also have a right to be peoples and also govern ourselves and take care of ourselves," said Lynge.

In Canada, Nunavut was formed as a territory nine years ago in recognition of its largely Inuit population. The territory has been pushing for more control over its resources to become less dependent on the federal government.

With files from the Associated Press