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By James Pomfret and Alice Woodhouse
HONG KONG Feb 26 A former chief editor of a major Hong Kong newspaper known for its critical reporting was stabbed and seriously wounded on Wednesday in an attack likely to fuel concern among journalists about what many see as an erosion of media freedoms.
A man in a helmet attacked Kevin Lau Chun-to, former chief editor of the Ming Pao daily, slashing him in the back several times. The assailant rode off on a motorcycle with an accomplice.
Lau was in critical condition in hospital after managing to summon police himself.
Police said they had so far no clues as to who might have carried out the attack. No one had been detained.
The attack took place days after 6,000 journalists marched to Hong Kong's government headquarters to demand the city's leaders uphold press freedom against what they see as intrustions from mainland China.
The motive for the attack was unclear and an incident of such brutality is unusual in the former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
The Hong Kong Journalists' Association denounced it and called on authorities to "pursue his attackers and those malignant forces behind them without fear or favour. The attackers must be brought to justice as quickly as possible to allay public fears."
Hong Kong is a freewheeling capitalist hub which enjoys a high degree of autonomy and freedom, but Beijing's Communist Party leaders have resisted public pressure for full democracy.
Beijing has agreed in principle for the city to hold direct elections in 2017, but no specific rules have yet been set on whether open nominations for candidates will be allowed.
Lau was recently replaced by a Malaysian Chinese journalist with suspected pro-Beijing leanings who takes up his duties this week.
His removal sparked a revolt in the Ming Pao newsroom by journalists who suggested the paper's editorial independence might be undermined.
"We hope the police can swiftly prosecute the culprit as many cases of attacks against the media in the past have ended up being unsolved," said Phyllis Tsang of the Ming Pao Staff Concern Group. "This attack will damage perceptions of Hong Kong as a safe city and its reputation for media freedoms."
Lau has since been moved to an online subsidiary of the same media group. Co-founded by martial arts novelist Louis Cha, Ming Pao is now owned by colourful Malaysian media baron, Tiong Hiew King, through his Media Chinese International.
Hong Kong's leader, Leung Chun-ying, said the city would not tolerate such violent acts. Democracy activists denounce Leung as a loyalist to Beijing's Communist leadership.
Media outlets have periodically been subject to attacks in Hong Kong. The offices of a small independent media outlet were recently ransacked and a car rammed the front gate of the home of Jimmy Lai, publisher of Hong Kong's popular anti-Beijing newspaper, the Apple Daily. (Editing by Ron Popeski)