Defiant Hong Kong protesters choke newly reopened airport

Unrest In Hong Kong During Anti-Government Protests
Protesters occupy the departure hall of the Hong Kong International Airport during a demonstration on August 13, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Getty

Hong Kong — Protesters clogged the departure area at Hong Kong’s reopened airport Tuesday, a day after they forced one of the world’s busiest transport hubs to shut down entirely amid their calls for an independent inquiry into alleged police abuse. More than 100 flights were cancelled as thousands of protesters occupied the airport’s main terminal for the fifth consecutive day.

Flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said in a statement that it had been “informed by the Airport Authority in Hong Kong that all check-in has been suspended as a result of the public assembly at Hong Kong International Airport, which is ongoing. There is potential for further flight disruptions at short notice.”

CBS News producer Chris Liable said all scheduled flights not already checked in were cancelled, and protesters were also blocking the departure lines at immigration, so nobody was able to get through there — something the protesters hadn’t done previously.

After filling up two separate arrivals halls, demonstrators streamed into the departure area despite increased security measures designed to keep them out. Passengers struggled to get past the sitting protesters and into the immigration section.

Some flights were able to take off earlier Tuesday, relieving some of the pressure from Monday’s cancellation of more than 200 flights.

An “existential threat”?

The central government in Beijing ominously characterized the protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” that posed an “existential threat” to the local citizenry.

Hong Kong airport reopens after protests

Meanwhile, paramilitary police were assembling across the border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises in what some saw as a threat to increase force brought against the mostly young protesters who have turned out in their thousands over the past 10 weeks.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the ongoing instability, chaos and violence have placed the city on a “path of no return.”

The demonstrators have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Lam’s administration to respond to their demands, including that she step down and entirely scrap legislation that could have seen criminal suspects sent to mainland China to face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.

While Beijing tends to define terrorism broadly, extending it especially to nonviolent movements opposing government policies in minority regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, the government’s usage of the term in relation to Hong Kong raised the prospect of greater violence and the possible suspension of legal rights for those detained.

While China has yet to threaten sending in the army — as it did against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989 — the exercises in Shenzhen were a further demonstration of its ability to crush the demonstrations, even at the cost to Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe haven for business and international exchange.

Images posted online showed armored personnel carriers belonging to the People’s Armed Police driving in convoy Monday toward the location of the exercises, just across the border from Hong Kong.

The People’s Liberation Army also has a garrison in Hong Kong, which recently released a video showing its units combating actors dressed as protesters. The Hong Kong police on Monday also put on a display of armored car-mounted water cannons that it plans to deploy by the middle of the month.

“Credible evidence” of police violations

Demonstrators have in recent days focused on their demand for an independent inquiry into what they call the police’s abuse of power and negligence. That followed reports and circulating video footage of violent arrests and injuries sustained by protesters.

Hong Kong protests paralyze one of Asia’s busiest airports

On Tuesday, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged Kong Kong authorities to investigate what she called “credible evidence” suggesting law enforcement officers had fired tear gas at protesters in ways that violate international law. Videos have emerged showing police firing gas and beanbag rounds at close range.

Some protesters have thrown bricks, eggs and flaming objects at police stations and police said they arrested another 149 demonstrators over the weekend, bringing the total to more than 700 since early June. Police say several officers have suffered burns, bruises and eye damage inflicted by protesters.

Lam told reporters Tuesday that dialogue would only begin when the violence stopped. She reiterated her support for the police and said they have had to make on-the-spot decisions under difficult circumstances, using “the lowest level of force.”

“After the violence has been stopped, and the chaotic situation that we are seeing could subside,” Lam said, “I as the chief executive will be responsible to rebuild Hong Kong’s economy … to help Hong Kong to move on.”

She did not elaborate on what steps her government will take toward reconciliation. After two months, the protests have become increasingly divisive and prompted clashes across the city.

Hong Kong hit where it hurts

The airport shutdown added to what authorities say is already a major blow to the financial hub’s crucial tourism industry.

Kerry Dickinson, a traveler from South Africa, said she had trouble getting her luggage Tuesday morning.

“I don’t think I will ever fly to Hong Kong again,” she said.

The protests early on were staged in specific neighborhoods near government offices. However, the airport protest was had a direct impact on business travel and tourism. Analysts said it could make foreign investors think twice about setting up shop in Hong Kong, which has long prided itself as being Asia’s leading business city with convenient air links across the region.

The black-clad protesters Tuesday held up signs in Simplified Chinese and English to appeal to travelers from mainland China and other parts of the world. “Democracy is a good thing,” said one sign in Simplified Chinese characters, which are used in mainland China instead of the Traditional Chinese script of Hong Kong.

Adding to the protesters’ anger, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways told employees in a memo that the carrier has a “zero tolerance” for employees joining “illegal protests” and warned violators could be fired.

Hong Kong was promised democratic rights not enjoyed in Communist Party-ruled mainland China when Beijing took over what had been a British colony in 1997, but some have accused Beijing of steadily eroding their freedoms. Those doubts are fueling the protests, which build on a previous opposition movement that shut down much of the city for seven weeks in 2014 that eventually fizzled out and whose leaders have been imprisoned.

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Violence escalates between Hong Kong police and protesters

Clashes involving Hong Kong’s protest movement escalated violently late Sunday as police launched tear gas at protesters who didn’t disband after a massive march and subway riders were attacked by masked assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators.

The firing of tear gas was the latest confrontation between police and protesters who have taken to the streets for almost two months to fight a proposed extradition bill and call for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory.

The march had been peaceful when it reached its police-designated end point in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district in the late afternoon, but thousands continued onward, at various points occupying key government and business districts. They then headed for the Liaison Office, which represents China’s Communist Party-led central government within the city.

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Protesters threw eggs at the building and spray-painted its surrounding surveillance cameras. China’s national emblem, which adorns the front of the Liaison Office, was splattered with black ink. The Liaison Office said in comments published on Chinese state media that the acts “openly challenged the authority of the central government and touched the bottom line of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”

Later, police threw tear gas canisters at protesters to try to disperse them. Protesters scattered, some heading back in the direction of a key business and retail district. Police remained in place, protecting themselves with shields. Police said on their official social media accounts that protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs at them and attacked the Central police station.

Hong Kong Protests
Protesters react to teargas as they confront riot police officers in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations. Vincent Yu / AP

Hong Kong media released video showing masked assailants attacking commuters in a subway station. Among those attacked were protesters clad in their trademark black clothing and yellow hard hats.

The attackers, meanwhile, were dressed in white with black masks pulled over their heads. On Saturday, demonstrators wore white at a counter-rally in support of police.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement shortly after midnight that commuters were attacked at a subway station in the city’s Yuen Long neighborhood, leading to “confrontations and injuries.”

The statement also said some “radical protesters initiated a series of violent acts … despite repeated warnings” by police. They said the acts included hurling petrol bombs, setting fires and throwing bricks.

Organizers said 430,000 people participated in Sunday’s march, while police said there were 138,000 during the procession’s “peak period.”

Large protests began early last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the extradition bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the legislation. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in the city.

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district the previous Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive in a commercial building and arrested a man. Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.

The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, condemned “radical extremists” who attacked the legislature and “trampled” on Hong Kong’s rule of law in a front-page column Sunday. The paper said the counter-rally Saturday intended to show support for the police reflected “mainstream public opinion” in Hong Kong.

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