HONG KONG (AP) — An anti-government assailant stabbed a pro-Beijing Hong Kong lawmaker who was campaigning Wednesday, police said, in an escalation of violent protests demanding political reforms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Junius Ho has become a hated figure by the protesters over his alleged links to violence against them. After receiving initial medical treatment, Ho told reporters the knife was blocked by his rib cage and he was left with a 2-centimeter (0.8-inch) deep wound.
The government condemned the attack and said police arrested the assailant. Ho, two of his assistants and the attacker were all injured, hospital officials said.
A video circulating on social media showed a man giving flowers to Ho and asking permission to snap a picture with him. Instead, the man drew a knife from his bag and stabbed Ho's chest but was quickly overpowered by Ho and several others.
The man kept hurling abusive comments at Ho, calling him "human scum."
Ho has been targeted by anti-government protesters since July 21, when armed masked men in white T-shirts violently attacked demonstrators and passengers at a subway station in northern Yuen Long, injuring 45 people.
That attack marked a dark turn in the protests that began in early June, and demonstrators have accused police of being slow to respond an of colluding with the attackers. Police said members of triad gangs, a branch of organized crime, were involved. Ho was seen shaking hands with some of the attackers that night.
Ho denied colluding with triads. He said he bumped into the men after dinner and thanked them for "defending their homes" but said he didn't know about the violence until later.
Protesters have trashed Ho's office several times and desecrated his parents’ graves.
Ho was campaigning for Nov. 24 district elections to pick 452 councilors, a low-level poll held every four years but closely watched this year as a gauge of public sentiment as the prolonged protests have hardened positions in both camps.
The seats are dominated by the pro-establishment bloc but the violence sparked concerns the polls may be postponed.
The city's biggest pro-establishment party voiced renewed concerns over safety, saying there were 150 incidents of their candidates being harassed and their offices vandalized in the past month, Hong Kong media reported.
Many have seen a now-shelved China extradition bill that had triggered the unrest as a sign of Beijing infringing on Hong Kong's judicial freedoms and other rights guaranteed when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
There have also been attacks on pro-democracy figures. A knife-wielding man bit off part of the ear of district councilor Andrew Chiu after slashing two people on Sunday night. Jimmy Sham, a leader of one of the city's largest pro-democracy group, was attacked by hammer-wielding assailants in October.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, on a visit to the mainland, met with President Xi Jinping in Shanghai on Monday in what was seen as an endorsement of her government's handling of the protests. Vice Premier Han Zheng reiterated the support Wednesday after talks with Lam in Beijing.
"The violent activities carried out by radical separatist forces have gone far beyond the bottom line of law and ethic,” Han said. "The most important work for the Hong Kong society now is to stop violence and restore order."
The foreign ministry dismissed a report that Beijing planned to replace Lam next year. In a statement Tuesday night, China's ruling Communist Party said it would "perfect" the system for appointing and dismissing Hong Kong's leader and top officials. No details were given.
On Wednesday, hundreds of students at two universities rallied in support of a 22-year-old youth who is fighting for his life in a hospital after reportedly falling off the upper floor of a car-park building when police fired tear gas in clashes early Monday.
Police are investigating the case that further incensed students who had been at forefront of the protests.