This city’s Ming Pao newspaper has long stood for sober independence in a media market that is both brashly commercial and buffeted by political winds from China, its reporters pursuing and often breaking stories that irk the territory’s overseers in Beijing.

So when the paper’s chief editor, Kevin Lau Chun-to, told employees this month that he was being moved aside by its owners, the suspicion spread that he had been sacrificed to appease the Chinese government and its local loyalists.

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