Four arrests as Macau police halt unofficial democracy poll

Four arrests as Macau police halt unofficial democracy poll
A volunteer (L) gives out flyers to people to raise awareness of an unofficial referendum in Macau on August 24, 2014.

HONG KONG - Four people were arrested as police shut down voting facilities in Macau after activists ignored strong objections from Beijing and held an unofficial referendum on electoral reform, the event organiser said.

Residents of the Chinese gambling hub were told they could vote at several locations across the territory, as well as online, but poll organiser Jason Chao told AFP that those attempting to take part in person were stopped by police, who confiscated the tablet computers people used to declare their vote.

He said four activists were arrested by police after polling began in the morning, but could not specify on what grounds.

"The authorities are using all means to disrupt our activity," Chao told AFP. "I can't imagine why the government has to clamp down on such a peaceful event," he said.

The former Portuguese colony returned to Chinese rule in 1999, but has a separate legal system from the mainland. Like Hong Kong, Macau's leader is known as its chief executive and is chosen by a pro-Beijing electoral committee.

The referendum was scheduled to run for a week ending on August 30, just ahead of the naming of the enclave's new leader on August 31 by the 400-member committee.

The poll was designed by activists to garner public support for reforms in the city of 550,000, but it is not clear if it will be able to continue or if authorities will also block the online voting system.

Macau police did not immediately confirm the arrests or shutdown.

"Our goal is to fight for a democratic electoral system and the first stage is to get the citizens informed of the election system," Chao told AFP last month.

'Illegal and invalid'

"We hope that the referendum will be able to serve as a foundation for our fight for democracy in the future," he said then.

As of 2pm local time (0600 GMT), more than 1,300 people have voted, according to the event's official website.

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