HONG KONG – The Hong Kong government condemned on Friday an attack by a “violent mob” on the city’s justice secretary in London, the first direct altercation between demonstrators and a government minister during months of often violent protests.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, who was in London to promote Hong Kong as a dispute resolution and deal-making hub, was targeted by a group of protesters who shouted “murderer” and “shameful.”
A statement by the Hong Kong government said Cheng suffered “serious bodily harm” but gave no details. Video footage of the incident showed Cheng falling to the ground.
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said in a statement she strongly condemned what she described as an attack on Cheng.
“The secretary denounces all forms of violence and radicalizm depriving others’ legitimate rights in the pretext of pursuing their political ideals, which would never be in the interest of Hong Kong and any civilized society,” the Hong Kong government said in a separate statement.
The attack came amid escalating violence in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, where a student protester died earlier this month after falling from a parking lot during demonstrations.
A 70-year-old street cleaner, who videos on social media showed had been hit in the head by a brick thrown by “masked rioters,” died on Thursday, authorities said.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department expressed profound sadness on Friday at the death of its cleaning worker and said it was providing assistance to his family.
Anti-government protesters paralyzed parts of Hong Kong for a fifth day on Friday, forcing schools to close and blocking some highways as students built barricades in university campuses and authorities struggled to tame the violence.
The protests escalated in June over a now-scrapped extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial. They have since evolved into calls for greater democracy, among other demands.
Cheng, embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s chief legal adviser, played a key role in pushing forward the proposed extradition bill that ignited the protests.
The months-long protests have plunged the former British colony into its biggest political crisis in decades and pose the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Hong Kong is also expected to confirm on Friday it has fallen into recession for the first time in a decade amid concerns the economy could be in even worse shape than feared as the anti-government protests take a heavy toll.
Alibaba Group Chairman Daniel Zhang, however, said Hong Kong’s future is “bright” as the e-commerce giant kicked off a retail campaign for its secondary listing in the city.