* High turnout hailed in symbolic 'protest' vote against newlaws * Organisers say turnout about one third of democratic voterbase * Unofficial poll aims to boost democrat chances in Septelection(Updates turnout figure to include paper ballots) By Jessie Pang and James Pomfret HONG KONG, July 12 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's opposition campsaid on Sunday that over 600,000 citizens in the Chinese-ruledcity cast ballots over the weekend in primaries it cast as asymbolic protest vote against tough national security lawsimposed by Beijing. The unofficial poll will decide the strongest pro-democracycandidates to contest elections in September to Hong Kong'sLegislative Council. Then, they aim to seize majority controlfor the first time from pro-Beijing rivals by riding a wave ofanti-China sentiment stirred by the law, which critics say hasgravely undermined Hong Kong's freedoms. While the primaries are only for the opposition camp, thelevel of participation is seen as a guide to popular opinion inthe city of 7.5 million people, a major financial hub. "A high turnout will send a very strong signal to theinternational community, that we Hong Kongers never give up,"said Sunny Cheung, 24, one of a batch of aspiring youngdemocrats out lobbying and giving stump speeches. "And that we still stand with the democratic camp, we stillsupport democracy and freedom." Defying warnings from a senior Hong Kong official that thevote might fall foul of the national security law, residentsyoung and old flocked to over 250 polling stations across thecity, manned by thousands of volunteers. Long queues formed, with people voting via their mobilephones after having their identities verified. "SEE THE COURAGE" Organisers said 592,000 people had voted online, and 21,000had cast paper ballots at the end of two full days of polling,- more than expected, and representing around a third of voterswho backed the democrats in an election last year. "Even under the shadow of the national security law, therewere still 600,000 people coming out," said an organiser, AuNok-hin. "You can see the courage of the Hong Kong people inthis ... Hong Kongers have created another miracle." The new law punishes what China describes broadly assecession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreignforces with up to life in prison and allows mainland securityagents to operate officially in Hong Kong for the first time. Despite this tactical vote to maximise their chances, somepro-democracy activists fear authorities may yet try to stopsome candidates from running in September's election. "They can arrest or disqualify any candidate they don't likeunder the national security law without a proper reason," saidOwen Chow, a young democratic "localist" candidate. At a time when Hong Kong authorities have barred publicmarches and rallies for months on end amid coronavirus socialrestrictions, and arrested individuals for shouting slogans andholding up blank sheets of paper, the vote was seen as a crucialand rare window for populist expression. "I can really feel that young people haven't given up yet,even though we are facing a very depressing future," said PrinceWong, 22, a candidate in the New Territories West district. REUTERS
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