A firebrand pro-Beijing politician in Hong Kong was stabbed by a man pretending to be a supporter on Wednesday, the latest tit-for-tat political violence in a city engulfed by seething pro-democracy protests.
The attack came as the Hong Kong’s unpopular leader Carrie Lam said her resolve to crack down on the protesters had been bolstered by a recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The international finance hub has been convulsed by five months of huge and increasingly violent protests calling for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.
With Beijing and Lam refusing to offer a political solution to the protesters’ grievances, violence has spiralled on both sides of the ideological divide.
In the latest incident, a man holding a bouquet approached pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho on Wednesday morning as the politician was campaigning in his constituency near the border with China.
Footage posted online showed the man handing Ho the flowers and asking for a picture. He then pulled a knife from his bag before striking Ho in the chest.
Police said three people were wounded in the incident, including the attacker, who was subdued by Ho and his aides as he shouted in Cantonese: “Junius Ho, you scum!”
A police source, who declined to be named, told AFP that Ho received a stab wound to the left side of his chest and the attacker was arrested.
Ho, 57, was conscious when he got into the ambulance. His bloodstained white shirt and wound dressings could be seen on the ground in the aftermath of the attack.
Xi’s seal of approval
The stabbing came as Lam wrapped up talks in mainland China with top Communist Party officials, including Xi who threw his support behind the beleaguered leader when they met on Monday, according to state media.
“President Xi’s trust and support to me and the Hong Kong government has strengthened our resolve to stop the violence and curb the chaos,” she said on Wednesday as she met in Beijing with Vice Premier Han Zheng.
China has run the city under a special “one country, two systems” model, allowing Hong Kong liberties not seen on the mainland, since its handover from the British in 1997.
But public anger has been building for years over fears that Beijing is eroding those freedoms, especially since Xi came to power.
Protesters have issued a list of demands, including universal suffrage and an investigation into abuses by police.
Tensions have risen again in recent days after a teenager was left in a coma when he fell one storey inside a car park where police were firing tear gas at projectile-throwing protesters on Sunday night.
Beijing has shown no willingness to meet demonstrators’ demands and recently signalled it plans to tighten its control over Hong Kong following a four-day meeting of party leaders.
Protesters have displayed no signs of leaving the streets with 22 consecutive weekends of unrest while fights have broken out with growing frequency.
Beijing supporters have attacked opponents throughout the summer, often in targeted assaults against prominent government critics and opposition politicians.
Eight pro-democracy figures have been attacked, including protest organiser Jimmy Sham who was hospitalised last month by men wielding hammers.
On Sunday, a man with a knife attacked democracy protesters including a local politician who had part of his ear bitten off.
But the violence is far from one-sided.
Crowds of pro-democracy protesters have routinely beaten their ideological opponents, usually in spontaneous mob violence during rallies, including a man on Saturday who was pummelled unconscious and stripped.
State media jump on attack
Discussion of the attack on Ho went viral inside mainland China, where the internet is heavily censored.
Four hashtags related to the stabbing racked up 550 million views and more than 71,000 posts on Chinese social media by mid-afternoon.
The state-run People’s Daily and Global Times newspapers also linked to a video of the stabbing on Twitter — a platform they have embraced to reach international audiences but is banned inside China.
As one of Hong Kong’s most stridently pro-Beijing politicians, Ho has become one of the most loathed establishment figures among democracy protesters.
He shot to further notoriety on July 21 after he was filmed shaking hands with a group of men in the town of Yuen Long who went on to beat protesters with sticks and poles, hospitalising 40 people.
He has delivered multiple speeches supporting Hong Kong’s police force and echoing Beijing’s condemnations, often using incendiary language.
Last month, he accused a prominent opposition lawmaker of “eating foreign sausage” because she is married to a British journalist.