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.


Hong Kong endures more transit disruptions, campus violence

Updated 10 min 26 sec ago

Hong Kong endures more transit disruptions, campus violence

  • Police said protesters shot several arrows at them near Hong Kong Polytechnic University
  • Life in this city of 7.5 million has been strained as thousands of commuters have been unable to get to work or endured lengthy commutes
HONG KONG: Hong Kong residents endured a fourth day of traffic snarls and mass transit disruptions Thursday as protesters closed some main roads and rail networks while police skirmished with militant students at major universities.

Police said protesters shot several arrows at them near Hong Kong Polytechnic University. None of the officers were injured, and six arrows were seized at the scene, police said.

Life in this city of 7.5 million has been strained as thousands of commuters have been unable to get to work or endured lengthy commutes.

The government appealed for employers to show flexibility. “For staff who cannot report for duty on time on account of conditions in road traffic or public transport services, employers should give due consideration to the circumstances,” a statement said.

The Education Bureau extended the suspension of classes for kindergarten to high school students until Monday. It ordered schools to remain open, though, to handle children whose parents need to send them to school.

At Polytechnic University, protesters shot an arrow at officers patrolling nearby, then threw flower pots from a height when other officers arrived. Police responded with tear gas, and protesters fired more arrows.

Protesters have hurled gasoline bombs and thrown objects off bridges onto roads below during clashes at campuses this week. The Chinese University of Hong Kong suspended classes for the rest of the year, and others asked students to switch to online learning.

Students at Chinese University, site of some of the fiercest clashes where students hurled more than 400 firebombs at police on Tuesday, have barricaded themselves in the suburban campus.

Early Thursday they used chainsaws to drop trees onto streets around the campus and prepared for a possible confrontation with police, which were not intervening.

Anti-government protests have riven Hong Kong, and divided its people, for more than five months.

A major rail line connecting Kowloon to mainland China was closed for a second day and five major underground stations were shut along with seven light rail routes, the Transport Department announced.

“Road-based transport services have been seriously affected this morning due to continued road blockages and damage to road facilities. In view of safety concerns and uncertain road conditions, buses can only provide limited services,” the department said.
Traffic was also disrupted because protesters have destroyed at least 240 traffic lights around the city.

The movement began in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill. Activists saw it as another sign of an erosion in Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, which China promised would be maintained for 50 years under a “one nation, two systems” principle when the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.