Chaos halts Hong Kong leader's speech; activist attacked

HONG KONG — Assailants with hammers attacked a protest organizer and lawmakers shouting abuse forced Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to abandon a speech in the legislature, in two dramas Wednesday that highlighted the chaos gripping the semi-autonomous Chinese territory after more than four months of anti-government unrest.

The attack on Jimmy Sham, one of the public faces of the protest movement, was reported by his Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized large demonstrations. Sham was on his way to an evening meeting in Kowloon when the four or five attackers pounced, leaving him with bloody head injuries but conscious, the Front said on its Facebook page.

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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."

Earlier in the day, pro-democracy lawmakers yelling that she is "the mother of the mafia police" forced Lam to stop delivering her annual policy address, causing her to walk out of the Legislative Council.

The hostile reception marked another slap in the face for the embattled chief executive grappling with the demonstrations and accompanying violence that have undermined her leadership, wrecked trust in the police and opened festering bitterness between opponents and supporters of the protest movement.

As she started to speak, chanting lawmakers held aloft placards suggesting Lam has blood on her hands. They also used a projector to light up Lam's face and the wall behind her with the protest movement's key demands. One lawmaker wearing a paper mask with the face of Chinese President Xi Jinping tossed a placard as Lam walked out.

After two thwarted attempts, unable to continue through the ruckus, Lam fell back on Plan B: delivering the speech 75 minutes late by video link, standing ramrod-straight with China's yellow-starred red flag to her right and Hong Kong's flag on her left.

Describing the territory as going through "major crisis," Lam said, "People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to normal?"

She appealed for its 7.5 million citizens to "cherish the city," warning that "continued violence and spread of hatred will erode the core values of Hong Kong."

But with its focus on such minutiae as building new tunnels and freeing up land for housing, the 50-minute speech titled "Treasure Hong Kong our home" only fueled criticism that Lam is deaf to protesters' concerns about the future of the territory's freedoms, unique in China.

In a subsequent news conference, Lam again made clear that she wouldn't resign and insisted there has been no erosion "whatsoever" of Hong Kong's freedoms.

"Hong Kong is still a very free society," she said.

Even before Lam delivered her speech, one of the protesting lawmakers, Claudia Mo, dismissed it as a "shame and a sham" and said the chief executive had lost all authority.

"She is just a puppet on strings, being played by Beijing," Mo said at an impromptu news conference with other lawmakers outside the chamber after they successfully thwarted Lam's address there.

They played a recording on a small loudspeaker that they said was the sound of police tear-gassing protesters and of protesters' wails.

"These are the voices of people screaming and they are just ordinary Hong Kong people," said lawmaker Tanya Chan. "Please, please, please Mrs. Carrie Lam, don't let us suffer any more."

She and others called for Lam's resignation. "This is the only way that we can have a good future," said Chan.

Pro-Beijing legislators condemned the disruption, among them Martin Liao, who called it "totally unforgivable."

Lam had been bracing for trouble in the legislature, given the fury whipped by the protests that started in June over a contested extradition bill and have grown into a full-blown tornado of sustained anti-government, anti-police and anti-China anger.

The widespread use of tear gas by riot-control squads and 2,600 arrests, widely decried as heavy-handed, have triggered public disgust with the 30,000-strong police force. Hardcore black-clad and masked protesters have responded with widespread vandalism of China-linked businesses, subway stations and other targets, and attacked police with gasoline bombs and other weapons.

This month, two police shootings that injured teenage protesters, the stabbing of a police officer, and the detonation of a small, remote-controlled bomb close to police officers ratcheted up violence to levels unprecedented since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Saying rioters are "spreading chaos and fear," Lam appealed for order and sought to end her address on a positive note. Her Facebook profile was updated before she spoke, with a photo of a smiling Lam against a backdrop of a rainbow over Hong Kong's harbour.

"We have to put aside differences and stop attacking each other," she said. "I thoroughly believe that Hong Kong will be able to ride out this storm and move on."

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