| HONG KONG
HONG KONG Feb 27 A senior Chinese official on
Thursday condemned the daylight stabbing of an influential
newspaper editor that has exposed deep-rooted anxieties about
possible interference by Beijing in the financial hub's affairs.
Police have made no arrests nor established any motive for
the stabbing of Kevin Lau, a former chief editor of the Ming Pao
newspaper, by two men, that left him fighting for his life.
Suspicions have spread, however, that powerful individuals
from mainland China or pro-Beijing allies opposed to the city's
push for full democracy, may have had a hand in the attack.
Lau's condition stabilised on Thursday and he was able to
communicate by writing.
His stabbing could spark a backlash against Beijing.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that reverted to Chinese
rule in 1997, enjoys considerable autonomy and broad freedom of
speech as a capitalist hub. It has been locked in a battle with
Beijing's leaders to push through reforms that could culminate
in an direct election for its leader in 2017.
Resentment has surged at attempts by Chinese authorities to
tighten their grip on Hong Kong as well as proposals to control
which candidates can stand in the 2017 poll.
A senior Chinese official in Hong Kong condemned the attack
and urged authorities to crack the case swiftly.
"We're closely watching the attack...and strongly condemn
the unlawful act of the criminals," said Yang Jian,
deputy director of China's representative office in Hong Kong,
the Liaison Office.
"We firmly support the Hong Kong government to spare no
effort, arrest the culprits and punish them in line with the
law," he said in remarks broadcast on local television.
The attack took place days after 6,000 protesters massed
outside government headquarters to demand the city's leaders
uphold press freedom against perceived intrusions from China.
It also followed Lau's replacement by a Malaysian editor
with suspected pro-Beijing leanings. That move sparked a
EXPOSES ON CHINA'S ELITE
Some insiders at Ming Pao say recent exposes on assets
hidden offshore by China's elite - in collaboration with the
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) -
could have been a factor in the attack.
Martin Lee, a founder of the city's main opposition
Democratic Party, said he could not rule out the possibility
that political or criminal elements might have staged the
attack, thinking they might "do Beijing a favour".
"I suppose (some) people think in their own hearts this
could have been related to Beijing," Lee said by telephone.
"I don't see it unless it is some hot-headed
fellow...thinking that what was actually done would be in
accordance with the wishes of Beijing."
Lee, together with newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai, was the
target of a foiled assassination plot in 2008 as he led Hong
Kong's pro-democracy movement into a heated election campaign.
The United States and European Union expressed concern over
the assault and diplomats in Hong Kong said it underscored fears
that the city's freedoms were being eroded.
"There's been a growing sense that, like the rule of law,
they (media freedoms) are vital if Hong Kong is to maintain its
role as an international centre," said one Western diplomat who
declined to be identified.
"This case has only highlighted those fears. The Hong Kong
government should know the importance of cracking this case,
wherever it leads."
Journalists were defiant and planned fresh weekend protests.
Around 100 Ming Pao reporters dressed in black gathered
outside the paper's headquarters, holding up copies of
Thursday's edition carrying a black masthead. Its owners offered
HK$1 million ($130,000) as a reward for information.
($1 = 7.7604 Hong Kong dollars)
(Additional reporting by Grace Li; Editing by Ron Popeski)