Operations at Hong Kong International Airport were resuming Tuesday after a days-long pro-democracy protest forced hundreds of flights to be cancelled at one of the world’s busiest air hubs.
Following a police crackdown on protests elsewhere in the city, the airport sit-in — which began on Friday and was meant to last three days — was briefly expanded, spilling over into the departures hall, which prevented check-ins and security clearing.
A total of 310 flights were cancelled in the 24 hours since midnight Monday in Hong Kong, according to The South China Morning Post. The Hong Kong-based English-language daily said some protesters remained in the airport’s arrival area.
Although the days of demonstrations in the airport were peaceful, police responded with force to protests in other parts of the city. Officers stormed a subway station at Kwai Fong, located in the city’s northern New Territories, firing tear gas and beating protesters with batons. In a protest on Sunday, one activist, a young woman, reportedly suffered a serious eye injury when police fired non-lethal rounds at protesters.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, defended police action against the demonstrators, saying authorities were trying to use “the lowest level of force” to deal with the protesters. But she echoed ominous statements last week from Beijing, warning that violence would lead Hong Kong “down a path of no return.”
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Lam said the demonstrations, now in their tenth week, had pushed the city into “a state of panic and chaos.”
“Hong Kong, as an open, free, very tolerant, economically stable city will see severe wounds,” she predicted.
“After the violence has been stopped and the chaotic situation subsides… I will be responsible [for] rebuilding Hong Kong’s economy, to listen as attentively as possible to my people’s grievances and [for] trying to help Hong Kong to move on,” she said.
Lam’s comments followed a second week of strong admonishments from Beijing. Yang Guang, a spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office, stepped up his harsh words about the protests, saying they “constituted serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging.”
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 under an agreement between London and Beijing guaranteeing the city a high degree of autonomy. Under a pledged “one country, two systems” approach, China was to allow Hong Kong to pass its own laws and maintain its own judicial system.
However, pro-democracy activists say Beijing has reneged on many of those promises and that Hong Kong’s China-appointed chief executive and hand-picked Legislative Council have become a rubber stamp for Beijing.
The latest protests were sparked by an extradition law that would have allowed some people accused of crimes in Hong Kong to be tried in mainland China. Although the Hong Kong government has backed off the proposed law, protesters want to see it killed altogether. Their demands have also expanded to include a freely elected legislature and direct elections for the chief executive.