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Hong Kong irks Beijing as more than 600,000 join unofficial democracy vote

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Protesters chant placards against Occupy Central outside a polling station for an unofficial referendum on democratic reform in Hong Kong Sunday, June 22, 2014. More than 500,000 people have voted in an unofficial referendum on democratic reform organized by the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement that has alarmed Beijing and sets the stage for a possible showdown with the government, with mass protests aimed at shutting down the Chinese capitalist enclave's financial district. The placards read " Return My Peaceful Hong Kong," "Teacher Association inciting students to commit crime." (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) (The Associated Press)

More than half a million Hong Kongers have voted in an unofficial referendum on democratic reform in the specially administered Chinese city that Beijing has blasted as illegal.

About 26,500 people cast ballots at 15 polling stations around the city on Sunday. About 636,000 ballots have been cast since voting started Friday, most of them online or through a smartphone app.

Tensions have soared in Hong Kong over how much say residents of the former British colony can have in choosing their next leader, who's currently hand-picked by a 1,200-member committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites.

Beijing has pledged to allow Hong Kongers to choose their own leader, known as the chief executive, starting in 2017. But the central government has balked at letting residents nominate their own candidates.