Puerto Rico chooses statehood after referendum vote

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The Puerto Rican and US flags are seen in the Old Town district February 9, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor says the U.S. territory has overwhelmingly chosen statehood in a non-binding referendum.

Ricardo Rossello said Sunday that the island has sent a strong and clear message to U.S. Congress and the world.

Nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, more than 7,600 for free association/independence and nearly 6,700 for independence. The participation rate was nearly 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters.

But many question the validity of the vote amid a low turnout and a boycott by several opposition parties.

U.S. Congress has final say on any changes to the U.S. territory’s political status, regardless of the referendum’s final outcome.