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Hong Kong seeks arrest of two activists accused of inciting blank votes at election

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FILE PHOTO: A Hong Kong flag is flown behind a pair of surveillance cameras outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong authorities issued arrest warrants on Monday for two activists living abroad for inciting people not to vote or to cast blank votes at a Dec. 19 legislative election, the city's first under Beijing's new "patriots-only" rules.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said former democratic legislator Ted Hui and former district councillor Yau Man-chun "had allegedly breached" in their social media posts new electoral rules that prohibit inciting people not to vote or to cast blank votes.

The two, both 39, are not in Hong Kong, but the new rules apply to all conduct concerning the election, regardless of the location of a suspect, ICAC said. They face a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of K$200,000 ($25,642).

Hui has fled to Australia, while Yau is in Britain, though both remain active on social media. Neither could immediately be reached for comment.

China announced in March sweeping changes to the former British colony's electoral system, reducing the number of directly elected representatives and increasing the number of Beijing-approved officials in an expanded legislature.

Candidates in the election, scheduled for Dec. 19 after being postponed for more than a year due to the coronavirus, are also vetted for their patriotism.

The changes to the city's political system have cemented the authoritarian turn Hong Kong took with Beijing's imposition of a national security law in June 2020. It criminalises anything China deems subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces, with penalties of up to life in prison.

The Hong Kong government passed new legislation to complement Beijing's changes, redrawing constituency boundaries, creating more electoral districts and criminalising calls for voters to leave ballots blank.

There are no candidates this year from the city's pro-democracy camp, with most former legislators and activists ensnared by the new law or arrested for other offences. Most are either in jail, out on bail pending trials, or in self-exile.

($1 = 7.7997 Hong Kong dollars)

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu and Sara Cheng; writing by Marius Zaharia; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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