Hong Kong protests cripple airport for second day

Hong Kong protests: Police clashing with protesters at the airport on Tuesday PIX: REUTERS via BBC
Hong Kong Police clashing with protesters at the airport on Tuesday PIX: REUTERS via BBC

HONG KONG – Hong Kong International Airport saw chaotic scenes on a second consecutive day of massive anti-government protests that have paralysed one of Asia’s key transport hubs.

Squads of riot police arrived shortly before midnight after thousands of demonstrators again flooded the terminal buildings during the day.

Flight departures were brought to a standstill amid scuffles.

At least three men were mobbed inside the airport by protesters.

They were said to be holding identity cards showing they were police officers from mainland China.

Hong Kong police have admitted deploying officers disguised as anti-government protesters during the unrest in the city.

But the editor of China’s Global Times newspaper said one of those attacked was one of his reporters who was merely doing his job.

Why the protests?

The airport, one of the world’s busiest, has been the site of daily protests since Friday. It has become the latest focus of mass political unrest in Hong Kong that began 10 weeks ago and shows no signs of abating.

The wider anti-government protests started in June in response to a proposed extradition bill, which has now been suspended, but have evolved into a more demanding pro-democracy movement. They are being fuelled by fears that the freedoms Hong Kong enjoys as a special administrative region of China are being eroded.

The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, earlier issued a fresh warning to protesters.

Ms Lam said Hong Kong had “reached [a] dangerous situation” and that violence during protests would push it “down a path of no return”.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media have published images of convoys of military police gathering in the border city of Shenzhen, says the BBC’s Stephen McDonell, who is in Hong Kong.

The official Xinhua news agency said “mobsters” had created “an atmosphere of terror” on Hong Kong’s streets.

What happened inside the airport?

Hong Kong protests airport Some struggled to get through crowds before flights were suspended   PIX: via BBC
Some struggled to get through crowds before flights were suspended
PIX: via BBC

Despite the latest warnings from officials, crowds gathered at the airport again on Tuesday.

Protesters used luggage trolleys to build barriers and staged a mass sit-down, bringing chaos to the departures area.

Some travellers were clearly distressed and angered by the disruption.

Hong Kong airport officials then announced that all checking-in for flights was suspended from 16:30 local time (10:30 GMT).

In a statement on the airport’s website, passengers were advised to leave the terminal buildings “as soon as possible”.

The South China Morning Post reported that the Airport Authority had been granted a court injunction to remove protesters. It was not clear how the injunction would be enforced.

Monday’s disruption had already led to hundreds of flight cancellations at the airport.

Some airlines, including flagship airline Cathay Pacific, cancelled dozens of flights on Tuesday before the latest closures were announced.

Some protesters held signs apologising to passengers for the inconvenience caused by their demonstrations. Others wore eye bandages in solidarity with an injured protester and brandished slogans criticising the police’s deepening crackdown.

Later, amid tense scenes, there were sporadic clashes between police and protesters outside the airport.

The police, wearing riot gear and brandishing truncheons, used pepper spray against some protesters as they briefly entered the terminal buildings to help evacuate an injured man.

In one video posted to social media, a policeman is seen frantically drawing his gun at protesters after being attacked with his own truncheon.

Protesters had boxed him into a corner after prying the baton from his hands during a violent skirmish. After collapsing to the ground, the policeman was eventually dragged to safety by his fellow officers.

Wall Street journalist Mike Bird, who posted the footage to Twitter, wrote that he was “astonished” nobody was killed on Tuesday night.

Many of the protesters had left the airport late on Tuesday, as they did on Monday before returning in numbers. -BBC

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