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China media slams Hong Kong democracy poll despite 800,000 votes

Hong Kong (AFP) – Organizers Monday urged Hong Kong’s government to take seriously an unofficial referendum on democratic reform after nearly 800,000 people voted in the Chinese city, but state media in Beijing dismissed the ballot as unpatriotic.

The poll organised by pro-democracy activists that closed late Sunday saw more than 780,000 people voting on how Hong Kong’s next leader should be chosen, days before a planned massive protest for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous city.

Some 88 percent urged the city’s lawmakers to veto any political reforms that do not meet ”international standards”.

The number of voters represents almost a quarter of the 3.47 registered voters in 2012, in a city of 7.2 million.

”The Hong Kong government should take seriously the views of nearly 800,000 citizens,” referendum organizer Benny Tai told a radio program Monday.

The ballot was organised by a group called Occupy Central, which threatens a mass sit-in in the Central business district later this year unless authorities come up with acceptable electoral reforms.

Chinese state media slammed the referendum as unpatriotic and driven by ”political paranoia”, while the government of the former British colony said it ”respected” people’s views.

The Global Times, which is linked to China’s ruling Communist party, said in an editorial: ”The basic political requirement for Hong Kong’s chief executive is that they must love both the country and Hong Kong. The opposition has refused to accept this requirement.”

”Some people have become frenzied. They seem civilized and rational, but their political paranoia is about to light a fuse,” it added.

The China Daily called the poll an ”unconstitutional political charade” and accused the US of funding its organizers.

”The US government has repeatedly expressed unconditional support for this poll in addition to funding illegal activities in Hong Kong through various ‘private’ channels,” it said without giving details.

Beijing has promised to let Hong Kong residents elect their next chief executive in 2017 but has ruled out giving voters a say in selecting candidates.

This has fueled fears among democracy advocates that only those sympathetic to Beijing will be allowed to stand.

The chief executive is currently selected by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee.

”We respect the right of the people to express their views and we also understand that there are different views in society,” said a Hong Kong government statement late Sunday.

The referendum, partly online and partly at physical ballot boxes, offered voters three options on how candidates for leader should be chosen.

Each would allow voters to propose candidates for the top job. All are therefore considered unacceptable by China and the Hong Kong government, which say a nominating committee must pick candidates under the terms of the city’s mini-constitution.

The winning proposal, offered by the Alliance for True Democracy, would allow the public or democratically elected lawmakers to nominate candidates.

”Hong Kong citizens have made their voices loud and clear. They refuse (political) vetting,” Joseph Cheng, a leader of the Alliance and a member of the Occupy movement, told reporters.

Tensions high

Concerns are growing that Chinese influence over the self-ruled city is increasing, and that freedoms it was guaranteed under an agreement on the 1997 handover to China are being eroded.

Organizers of Tuesday’s rally and march, marking the July 1 anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty, expect it to be the largest since the handover with at least 500,000 people expected.

A student group called Scholarism announced it would hold a peaceful overnight rally in Central as well as outside the government headquarters in neighboring Admiralty following the mass march.

”It’s time to escalate our action and put pressure on the Hong Kong government and the central government,” said Joshua Wong, one of its leaders.

Earlier this month China issued its first ever policy document stipulating how Hong Kong should be governed, in what was widely seen as a warning to the city not to overstep the bounds.

Worries also grew following several high profile attacks on journalists this year, including the stabbing of a former editor of a liberal newspaper, Kevin Lau, in broad daylight.

”A lot of Hong Kong people are afraid that Beijing is going to tighten control and also take back some of the autonomy of Hong Kong,” Ma Ngok, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

”They are afraid… autonomy and freedom may be lost if they don’t speak up.”

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