Clashes at Hong Kong airport; UN urges restraint over protests

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Riot police is seen during a mass demonstration after a woman was shot in the eye, at the Hong Kong international airport, in Hong Kong. (Reuters)
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Riot police use pepper spray to disperse anti-extradition bill protesters during a mass demonstration after a woman was shot in the eye, at the Hong Kong international airport, in Hong Kong China August 13, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 13 August 2019

Clashes at Hong Kong airport; UN urges restraint over protests

  • Evening clashes at airport between protesters and police
  • Airport suspends check-in as demonstrations grow

HONG KONG: Police and protesters clashed at Hong Kong’s international airport on Tuesday evening after flights were disrupted for a second day and the political crisis in the former British colony deepened.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump said the Chinese government was moving troops to the border with Hong Kong and he urged calm.

In a second day of unrest at the airport, thousands of black-clad protesters jammed the terminal, chanting, singing and waving banners.

Scuffles broke out after an injured person was taken out of the main terminal by medics after he was held by a group of protesters. Some activists claimed he was an undercover mainland Chinese police officer.

Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters and riot police moved in, pushing some protesters back and using pepper spray. A policeman pulled out a gun at one point.

Protesters also barricaded some passageways in the airport with luggage trolleys, metal barriers and other objects. At least two protesters were taken away by police.

 


Although the situation looked like it could erupt into serious violence, it calmed down after a few hours without a more forceful police intervention.

The action at the airport followed an unprecedented shutdown on Monday. Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said operations had been “seriously disrupted” on Tuesday and departing passengers had been unable to reach immigration counters.

The weeks of protests began as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China and have swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong since China took it back from Britain in 1997.

Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters have roiled the Asian financial hub.

Hong Kong’s stockmarket fell to a seven-month low on Tuesday. The United Nations human rights commissioner, Michele Bachelet, urged Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of their forces firing tear gas at protesters in ways banned under international law.

China responded by saying her comments sent the wrong signal to “violent criminal offenders.” Chief Executive Carrie Lam made an appeal for calm and restraint. “Take a minute to look at our city, our home,” she said, her voice cracking, at a news conference in the newly-fortified government headquarters complex.

“Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?” she said. As she spoke, the benchmark Hang Seng index hit a seven-month low, shedding more than 2% and dragging down markets across Asia.

Demonstrators want Lam to resign. She says she will stay. The events present Chinese President Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012. Hong Kong legal experts say Beijing might be paving the way to use anti-terrorism laws to try to quell the demonstrations.

 

Angry passengers

“I think paralysing the airport will be effective in forcing Carrie Lam to respond to us...it can further pressure Hong Kong’s economy,” said Dorothy Cheng, a 17-year-old protester.

As evening fell, protesters at the airport surrounded a man who they suspected to be a Chinese policeman.

After an extended standoff when the man’s mainland Chinese identity card was taken and checked, medics and Hong Kong police entered the airport to take the man away, sparking the clashes.

Despite the trouble, some flights were still scheduled to take off early on Wednesday morning with some tourists still waiting in the departure hall and dining areas, according to Reuters journalists in the airport.

Some passengers challenged protesters over the delays as tempers began to fray. Flag carrier Cathay Pacific said flights might still be canceled at short notice.

The airline, whose British heritage makes it a symbol of Hong Kong’s colonial past, is also in a political bind.

China’s civil aviation regulator demanded that the airline suspend staff who joined or backed the protests from flights in its airspace, pushing the carrier’s shares past Monday’s 10-year low.

Other Chinese airlines have offered passengers wanting to avoid Hong Kong a free switch to nearby destinations, such as Guangzhou, Macau, Shenzhen or Zhuhai, with the disruption sending shares in Shenzhen Airport Co. Ltd. surging.


Families grieve after Kabul wedding blast

An Afghan man mourns during the funeral of his brother after a bomb exploded at a wedding hall killing 63 people and injuring 200 others. (Reuters)
Updated 19 August 2019

Families grieve after Kabul wedding blast

  • Bride’s relatives, members of music band among victims of Daesh attack

KABUL: Mirwais Elmi’s special night soon became a bloodbath after a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the hotel hall where his wedding ceremony was taking place, killing more than 63 people and injuring 200 others in Kabul on Sunday. Elmi and his bride, who were in separate areas of the venue, survived the blast. The explosion took place just before dinner was to be served to the nearly 1,000 guests who had gathered in the southwest of the city.
The local Daesh affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack Speaking to a private TV channel on Sunday, a shaken Elmi was unable to describe the carnage that took place.
“I am not a groom today, my family, my friends are all in grief,” Elmi, who is in his early 20s and works as a tailor, said.
He added that he never thought “such an incident would happen during my wedding party.”
As survivors buried victims of the attack, an infant’s milk bottle and an invitation card could be seen near one of the hotel’s walls, badly damaged by the blast.
The attack comes as the US and Taliban close in on a peace deal which would lead to the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, nearly 18 years after the Taliban were ousted. The group immediately distanced themselves from the attack and strongly condemned it.
Elmi’s father-in-law lost 14 members of his family, while another man lost three of his sons, four nephews and five of his aunt’s grandchildren, according to survivor accounts.
“My family and my bride are in shock, they cannot speak. My bride keeps fainting. I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again,” he said. All five members of the wedding’s music band were killed. The groom and bride’s families, like many of those attending the ceremony, belonged to poor families.  
None of the guests were government officials sought by Daesh or other militant groups.

Government leaders live behind heavily protected compounds, drive in armored vehicles and have their families living abroad, but we ordinary Afghans are suffering routinely.

Ghulam Hussien Nasiri, Lawmaker

Many of the victims were children and young men. The hotel had no guards and guests were not body searched, according to survivors.
Shi’ite cultural centers and an anti-government protest have all recently come under attack, but Sunday’s wedding blast was the first of its kind, evoking a reaction from President Ashraf Ghani. He blamed Daesh for the incident. “I strongly condemn the inhumane attack on the wedding hall in Kabul. My top priority for now is to reach out to the families of victims of this barbaric attack. On behalf of the nation, I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who were martyred. “The Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide a platform for terrorists,” he tweeted.
Ghulam Hussien Nasiri, a lawmaker, said the attack exposed the government’s weakness.
“Government leaders live behind heavily protected compounds, drive in armored vehicles and have their families living abroad, but we ordinary Afghans are suffering routinely,” he told Arab News.