Voters in HK democracy poll hits almost 300,000, despite massive cyberattack

HONG KONG (AFP) - Almost 300,000 people have taken part in an unofficial Hong Kong vote on electoral reform on Friday, despite the online voting system suffering one of the largest cyberattacks in history.

As of 8pm local time (8pm Singapore time), eight hours after online polling opened, 298,268 people had taken part in the informal "civil referendum" which asks participants to choose between three methods to vote for Hong Kong's next leader in 2017. The number of participants is already set to outstrip expectations - organisers had said before polls opened that they were hoping for 300,000 people to vote in total.

Each of the three options in the unofficial vote allows residents to choose candidates for the top job - something deemed unacceptable by the city's current leader Leung Chun Ying. "All three options on the ballot are against the Basic Law," Mr Leung said, referring to Hong Kong's Constitution.

The online voting system for the unofficial referendum also witnessed one of the largest denial-of-service attacks in history three hours before polls opened, Dow Jones Newswires reported, citing a web security company. "They literally used every trick in the book in terms of how attacks are launched, and then some we had never seen used before," Mr Matthew Prince, chief executive of CloudFlare told Dow Jones, adding that his company has been able to keep the site running in Hong Kong.

Late Friday the voting site was showing an error message which read: "System is under severe attack, only limited services provided."

The polling system, built by the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University, also suffered a series of similar cyber-attacks last week.

On Wednesday the leading pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily blamed Beijing for a massive cyber-attack that shut down its website for several hours.

A spate of attacks on Hong Kong journalists and media executives in recent months, including the savage knifing of the former editor of the liberal Ming Pao newspaper, have raised concerns over press freedom in the city.

Beijing's Cabinet last week published a controversial White Paper reasserting China's control over Hong Kong, triggering angry protests in the city.

It was China's first-ever policy document stipulating how Hong Kong should be governed, in what was widely interpreted as a warning to the city not to overstep the boundaries of its autonomy.