Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has again been forced from the legislative chamber because of protests by opposition members following a violent attack on a leader of the protest movement.
Pro-democracy legislators shouted and waved placards depicting Ms Lam with bloodied hands, prompting their removal by guards and the suspension of proceedings.
It came the day after Ms Lam was forced to abandon an annual policy address in the chamber, later delivering it on television.
Disruption in the chamber and the attack on Wednesday night on Jimmy Sham, by assailants wielding hammers and knives, marked the latest dramatic turn in the unrest that has rocked the city since June.
Protesters and police have deployed levels of violence unseen since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Before her departure, Ms Lam reiterated that her “first priority” was ending the violence that has dealt a body blow to the local economy as well as Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe, law-abiding centre for finance and business with a sophisticated independent judiciary.
She said she was working with the city’s 180,000 public servants and transport authorities to restore order, although that task was made harder by members of the public sympathetic to the cause of the “rioters”, as she termed hardcore protesters.
However, she was forced to withdraw amid calls for her resignation, with pro-democratic legislator Claudia Mo shouting: “Carrie Lam, you are a liar.”
The protests began in response to a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China.
The movement grew to encompass broader demands for universal suffrage, an independent inquiry into the policing methods used against protesters and other demands.
Mr Sham has been one of the public faces of the protest movement as a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised large demonstrations.
He was on his way to an evening meeting in the district of Kowloon when four or five attackers left him with bloody head injuries but conscious, the Front said on its Facebook page.
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”.
Ms Mo and other opposition legislators on Thursday suggested the attack may have been designed to frighten others away from protesting, or even to help provide a pretext for the government to call off district council elections next month.
“We can’t help but feel that this entire thing is part of a plan to shed blood on Hong Kong’s peaceful protests,” she was quoted as saying for government broadcaster RTHK. “If you think you’re being peaceful and you’re safe, you’re not.”
Mr Sham spent the night in hospital. His wounds to the head and arm were not considered life-threatening, according to the station.
The assailants escaped in a vehicle and their identities remained unknown, although organised crime elements have long been accused of engineering attacks on protesters and leaders of the pro-democracy camp.
Police last month arrested two people, including a 15-year-old boy, over an assault on Mr Sham and his assistant while they were dining in a cafe. Mr Sham was not injured in that attack.