Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

His supporters followed, carrying signs that read, "Oscar Lopez Rivera is our Mandela".

A Puerto Rican nationalist vilified for his alleged links to a deadly bombing campaign decided on his own to pass up a special award that Puerto Rican Day Parade organizers wanted to give him, hoping to dispel the rancor that had enveloped the NY event, an official said.

"He did not represent me", said Rivera, visiting from Orlando, Florida.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito pushed for Lopez Rivera to be honored with the parade's National Freedom Award. "We will lose our autonomy", he told The New York Times.

Of course the way congress works we definitely don't anticipate any quick answers on whether we'll have a new state, but with a clear win in this year's vote we might just be closer than we think to adding a 51st star to the flag.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and several police and fire department groups also said they wouldn't attend.

Still, many cheered as Rivera waved to the crowd while riding on a float. More than 1 million are in NY.

"It's impossible for Puerto Rico to pay that debt, except if every last dollar that the Puerto Rican worker has in his pocket is taken out of his pocket, " said Lopez Rivera in an interview published last week on the Democracy Now website.

Sunday's referendum is the fifth one for Puerto Rico.

He argues that statehood would help Puerto Rico in its attempt to face down its debt crisis. Although Lopez River said he would decline the award, he still occupied a place of honor at the front of the parade.

The sovereignty view is and has been a minority in Puerto Rico. Some wrapped their bodies in it, others adorned their heads with the red, white and blue colors.

"I don't support a political movement", she said, explaining that she was at the parade to support "my hometown, Hormigueros", a municipality in the western region of the island.

The ruling Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), which controls the Puerto Rican governorship as well as legislature and organised the referendum, claimed the result marked a resounding victory for statehood.

Many believe the island's territorial status has contributed to its 10-year economic recession, which has prompted almost half a million Puerto Ricans to flee to the US mainland and was largely sparked by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives.

Rather than heading to the polls, some 500 Puerto Ricans marched on the streets of San Juan, waving Puerto Rico's flag and chanting in support of independence.

Marchers on Sunday included Mayor Bill de Blasio, who for weeks defended his intention to march, but then said last week he was uncomfortable with honoring Lopez Rivera.

The first three referenda were inconclusive, with voters split on statehood versus the status quo. Statehood was prominent during Puerto Rico's election in November when two pro-statehood candidates won: Rossello, a Democrat, became governor and Jenniffer Gonzalez, a Republican, was elected resident commissioner - Puerto Rico's sole representative in U.S. Congress who can write and submit legislation, but doesn't have the authority to vote.

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