August 24, 2019
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Hong Kong airport suspends flights amid protests, Beijing ramps up warnings

By Shirley Lau

Hong Kong, Aug 12 (efe-epa).- All flights out of Hong Kong were canceled Monday afternoon as over 5,000 pro-democracy activists descended on the airport, in protest of police's violent clearance operations in various districts of the Asian financial hub the previous night.

At 16.00 local time (8.00 GMT), the authority of Hong Kong International Airport, one of the busiest in the world, announced that all flights had been canceled for the rest of the day except for those that had completed the check-in process and arrival flights that were already heading to Hong Kong.

The unprecedented disruption came less than 24 hours after clashes between police and protesters in the ongoing anti-government protest movement escalated to a new level, with one young woman allegedly shot in the eye with a beanbag round and police firing teargas and non-lethal ammunition at protesters at close range.

Meanwhile, a spokesman of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, an organ of Beijing in charge of Hong Kong affairs, said in a briefing Monday afternoon that "radical protesters" in Hong Kong were showing "signs of terrorism".

The flight cancelation left hundreds of confused travelers stranded in the airport while throwing into disarray the travel plans of thousands of others.

William Giles, partner of a law firm in Hong Kong who planned to fly to the UK Monday night to deal with some "urgent family issues", said the abrupt shutdown took him by surprise and he blamed the Hong Kong government for the chaos.

"I've been here 29 years. Hong Kong people are the most peaceful and law-abiding in the world. The government is so totally out of touch with the daily problems of its people, blaming everyone else but itself. They are not a government of the people at all."

Protesters joining the rally started flooding the airport Monday morning, extending the fourth consecutive day of a sit-in action meant to raise awareness among international travelers of the current political crisis facing Hong Kong.

They raised signs with messages such as "Hong Kong is not safe with police" and "Shame on rogue cops". Some donned a right eye patch, in reference to an incident Sunday night where a young woman was allegedly shot by a police projectile. Hospital staff reportedly confirmed that she would need a prosthetic eye and possible facial reconstruction.

At around 18.00, the activists started to leave the airport, amid rumors that police might carry out a clearance operation once the last inbound flight arrived at 23.33 from Shanghai.

Events that took place in multiple districts Monday night suggested police have adopted more aggressive tactics against anti-government protesters as the anti-government movement sparked by a widely criticized extradition bill entered its 10th week without showing any sign of abating.

On Sunday afternoon, protesters spilled onto the streets following a lawful rally on Hong Kong Island and an unauthorized one in Kowloon, launching into wildcat protests and road occupations in different districts.

As night fell, police were out in force, swiftly dispersing the activists in various areas, including the commercial area of Causeway Bay where the young woman was allegedly shot in the eye.

As at 11.00 Monday, 45 people, including an eight-year-old, were hospitalized and two were still in a series condition, according to the Hospital Authority.

During the night of violence on Sunday, one round of teargas was fired into a metro station in the working class town of Kwai Fong, the first time the Hong Kong police used the chemical agent in an enclosed space.

In another metro station in the middle-class district of Tai Koo, riot police were filmed shooting at protesters with pepper ball gun from less than two meters, beating demonstrators and kicking one fleeing man who was rushing down an escalator.

Many TV viewers watched with disbelief when some men dressed in the same fashion as the protesters - with black shirts, yellow hard hats and masks - joined some uniformed police officers to arrest protesters.

In a press conference hosted by police held Monday afternoon, Tang Ping-keung, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations), acknowledged that police had sent undercover to infiltrate groups of protesters and make arrests, saying the tactic was justified in the face of "core protesters" who were "extremely violent".

During the tension-laden press event, in which local reporters repeatedly butted in and accused the police force of telling lies, the police spokesmen said protesters' wildcat actions Sunday night included surrounding police stations, disrupting traffic, and hurling projectiles including bricks and a petrol bomb.

One officer was sent to the hospital after suffering burns to his leg from a petrol bomb attack, the spokesmen noted.

Shortly before the police press conference, Yang Guang, a spokesman of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, said in a briefing in Beijing: "Hong Kong's radical demonstrators have repeatedly used extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers, which? shows the first signs of terrorism emerging."

Responding to the comment, Li Kwai-hai, Senior Superintendent of Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, said at the police press event that "according to our assessment, (the protest movement) is not yet terrorism" and it was still violent actions of protesters that police were dealing with.

The violent clearance last night came a few days after the police force made the surprising move to bring former deputy chief Alan Lau out of retirement to tackle the protest movement, and two weeks after the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office threw its support behind the Hong Kong police force in the movement.

The extradition bill that sparked the citywide anti-government movement, which would have enabled fugitives to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China, has plunged Hong Kong into its worst political crisis since June.

Though the bill was declared "dead" by top leader Carre Lam, it has morphed into a broader anti-government movement seeking to reverse a general decline in freedoms.EFE-EPA

sl/jot

Related content

Cathay Pacific stocks lowest in 10 years after China bans protesting staff

Beijing, Aug 12 (efe-epa).- The shares of Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific on Monday reached their lowest value in 10 years after Beijing banned the entry into mainland China of any employee of the company who has participated in the protests in the last two months in the special autonomous region.

Around 2 pm local time, each Cathay Pacific share was worth 9.87 Hong Kong dollars ($1.26), although it had earlier in the morning plunged to HK$9.82, levels not seen since July 2009.

The performance of Cathay Pacific shares also affected its parent company, the Swire Pacific conglomerate, which tumbled 5.4 percent in the morning, reaching a new low since October 2018.

Swire Pacific controls 45 percent of Cathay Pacific, and another 22 percent belongs to Chinese airline Air China, which recorded a drop of up to 1.53 percent on Monday morning.

On Friday, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said that a Cathay Pacific pilot had been formally charged with a crime of "revolt," punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for participating in unauthorized protests.

The CAAC denounced that the company had allowed the pilot to continue flying and said that such incidents severely affect aviation security.

The body also requested that the airline send a list with details of all personnel flying over Chinese airspace for review.

Not a single flight of the airline or its subsidiaries was canceled or suffered delays during the weekend.

In recent weeks, Beijing has reiterated its unwavering support for the government of Hong Kong and the local police, calling for law and order to be restored at the earliest.

Meanwhile, protesters returned to the streets of the autonomous region for the 10th weekend in a row.

The protests began in June against a controversial extradition bill but have been extended to a series of demands seeking to improve the former British colony's democratic mechanisms. EFE-EPA

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