HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was forced from the legislature for the second day in a row Thursday by opposition members protesting a bloody attack on a leader of the nearly 5-month-old pro-democracy movement.
The lawmakers shouted and waved placards depicting Lam with bloodied hands, prompting the removal of 14 of them by guards and the suspension of the question-and-answer session.
On Wednesday, Lam was forced to abandon an annual policy address in the chamber, later delivering it by television.
Disruption in the chamber and the attack Wednesday night on Jimmy Sham by assailants wielding hammers and knives were the latest dramatic turns in the unrest that has rocked the world financial hub since June. Protesters and police have both deployed levels of violence unseen since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Lam took just three questions, all from pro-government lawmakers.
In one response, Lam reiterated that her “first priority” was ending the violence that has dealt a blow to the local economy and to Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe, law-abiding center for finance and business with an independent judiciary.
Lam said she was working with the city’s 180,000 public servants and transport authorities to restore order, though the task was made harder by members of the public sympathetic to the cause of the “rioters,” as she called the protesters.
Shortly after, she withdrew amid chants and calls for her resignation, with pro-democratic legislator Claudia Mo shouting, “Carrie Lam, you are a liar!”
The protests began in response to a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China. The movement ballooned to encompass broader clamors for universal suffrage, an independent inquiry of the policing methods used against protesters and other demands, including ending the description of protesters as “rioters.”
The demonstrations have been fueled by widespread concerns that Beijing is chipping away at the separate political and legal freedoms Beijing promised Hong Kong could maintain for 50 years after the transfer from British rule.
Sham has been one of the public faces of the protest movement, as a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized large demonstrations. He was on his way to an evening meeting in the district of Kowloon when four or five attackers pounced on him, leaving him with bloody head injuries but conscious, the Front said on its Facebook page.
It suggested the assault was politically motivated, linked “to a spreading political terror in order to threaten and inhibit the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights.”
Mo and other opposition legislators on Thursday suggested the attack on Sham may have been designed to frighten others away from protesting, or to help provide a pretext for the government to call off district council elections scheduled for November.
“We can’t help but feel that this entire thing is part of a plan to shed blood on Hong Kong’s peaceful protests,” Mo was quoted as saying to government broadcaster RTHK. “If you think you’re being peaceful and you’re safe, you’re not.”
Sham spent the night in a hospital and his wounds to the head and arm were not considered life-threatening, according to the station.
The assailants escaped in a vehicle and their identities remained unknown, although organized crime elements have long been accused of engineering attacks on protesters and leaders of the pro-democracy camp.
Police in September arrested two people, including a 15-year-old boy, over an assault on Sham and his assistant while they were dining in a café. Sham was not injured in that attack.
Lam’s supporters and their Communist Party backers in Beijing have protested all foreign criticism of Lam’s handling of the protests. They responded with outrage this week to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress to support the protesters. One of the bills requires annual reviews by the U.S. secretary of state of Hong Kong’s special economic and trade status, providing a check on Beijing’s influence over the territory.
Pro-Beijing legislator Regina Ip said the U.S. politicians were seeking to “interfere mostly in the domestic affairs of Hong Kong and to promote the political interests of their proxies in Hong Kong.”
“U.S. interests are bound to be hurt adversely as a result,” Ip said.
In an interview with Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper, Susan Thornton, a former U.S. senior diplomat for East Asia, said the bills’ passage would be a “huge mistake” that would harm “exactly the wrong people.”
“To me, Beijing would like nothing more than the U.S. to remove Hong Kong’s special status,” she said.