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Meat cleaver attack on ex-editor

The former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper whose abrupt dismissal in January sparked protests over press freedom is in critical condition after being hacked by an attacker with a meat cleaver.

Police said a man wearing a motorcycle helmet attacked Kevin Lau in a residential neighbourhood and then fled on a motorcycle driven by another man.

Lau is in hospital in critical condition with slashes in his back and legs, said Kwan King-pan, acting superintendent of Hong Kong Police.

Police did not announce any motive for the attack and appealed to the public for information.

Lau, 49, was named editor of the respected Ming Pao newspaper in 2012 but was replaced last month by a Malaysian journalist with no local experience.

Lau was transferred to the parent company's electronic publishing unit. The move raised fears among journalists that the newspaper's owners were moving to curb aggressive reporting on human rights and corruption in China.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was shocked and angered by the attack, calling it a "serious provocation to Hong Kong press freedom". Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying told reporters at the hospital that "we strongly condemn this savage act".

Freedom of speech and the press is a growing concern in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, where such rights are guaranteed by its mini-constitution.

On Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets to protest Lau's dismissal and other recent cases, including the ousting of an outspoken radio host and reports that Beijing-backed businesses were pulling ads from some newspapers over editorial stances.

Hong Kong slipped three places to 61st on the latest World Press Freedom Index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which said Beijing's growing influence is jeopardising media independence. Hong Kong was ranked 18th on the group's inaugural index in 2002.

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