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Tens of thousands vote in Hong Kong's online democracy 'referendum'

Published on Jun 20, 2014 2:06 PM
A mock tank, covered with photocopies of the "One country, two systems" white paper released earlier by Beijing on Hong Kong's control, is displayed by local artists to symbolise its threat to the city's autonomy, at a shopping district in Hong Kong on June 19, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Tens of thousands of people voted for full democracy in Hong Kong within the first hour of an unofficial online referendum, a civil campaign that has sparked warnings from China's Communist Party leaders.

Social tensions have steadily risen in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 - with pro-democracy activists threatening to blockade part of the city's financial district if China doesn't allow opposition candidates to run in a 2017 election.

While Beijing says Hong Kong can go ahead with a city-wide vote in 2017 for the city's top leader, the most far-reaching experiment in democracy in China since the Communist takeover in 1949, senior Chinese officials have ruled out allowing the public to nominate candidates. Instead, Beijing insists a small committee of largely pro-Beijing loyalists choose who gets on the ballot, which would effectively render the ability to vote meaningless.

Even with the 'PopeVote' website functioning only intermittently after a cyber attack earlier in the week, more than 50,000 votes were cast within an hour and a half of opening, said pro-democracy activists who organised the ballot. Most of the votes were cast through a smartphone app. Some 37,000 registered to vote in the days beforehand.

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