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China Says Hong Kong Online Referendum Illegal as Website Hacked

China said a “referendum” on how Hong Kong’s chief executive is elected isn’t constitutional and would be considered illegal and invalid, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.

The Hong Kong government is considering proposals on how to elect its top official in 2017, with China saying candidates must be vetted by a committee. The informal referendum, conducted through an online poll June 20-June 29, is being organized by a group of activists under the banner of Occupy Central, which has vowed street protests if electoral reforms don’t meet their demands.

The voting website, which opened yesterday, suffered “severe” distributed denial-of-service attacks, in which hackers flooded systems with information to shut them down, the organizers of the poll said in a statement dated June 19. More than 265,000 votes had been submitted as of 7 p.m. yesterday, the website showed.

The election procedure is not in line with Hong Kong’s constitutional Basic Law, Xinhua said, citing the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council. The public nomination of candidates runs counter to the Basic Law, Xinhua said.

Hong Kong was granted its own legal system and autonomy over most matters for 50 years under a “One Country, Two Systems” policy after the U.K. returned the territory to China in 1997. The Chinese government also promised universal suffrage for the 2017 election.

Earlier this month, the Canadian, Indian and Italian chambers of commerce in Hong Kong joined brokers and executives in opposing a planned pro-democracy protest, publishing a letter that said the demonstrations may “cripple” businesses.

CloudFlare Inc., a San Francisco startup that protects websites from attacks, said it increased the number of dedicated servers to cope with the denial-of-service attacks.

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