Anti-government protesters and riot police clashed at Hong Kong’s International Airport late Tuesday night after flights were severely disrupted throughout the day.
Police fired pepper spray and used their batons to force back the crowd as they escorted an injured man to an ambulance, one of two men protesters held, claiming they were mainland security agents.
At one point a police officer pulled his handgun on protesters after he was beaten by protesters who had taken away his baton.
Police officer had his baton taken from him and was attacked with it. Drew his pistol and aimed at protesters. Astonished nobody killed here tonight. pic.twitter.com/Wox8yziDnz
— Mike Bird (@Birdyword) August 13, 2019
One of the men detained by protesters had his hands secured with cable ties as he was forced to sit on a baggage trolley. Later the mob repeatedly kicked him as lay on the ground.
After going through his bag, protesters produced a Chinese passport and ID card along with a blue “I love Hong Kong police” T-shirt. Protesters accused the man of taking closeup photos of them with his mobile phone.
The man denied being a public security agent and said he was only at the airport to see off friends. RTHK video footage showed the man being assaulted by angry protesters before legislators Fernando Cheung and Kwok Ka-ki attempted to intervene. Kwok appealed to the demonstrators, saying: “The whole world is watching, don’t mete out extrajudicial punishment.”
Paramedics finally managed to take the man out on a stretcher after midnight. The editor of the mainland Global Times newspaper later said the man was one of their reporters and had just been covering events.
Earlier, thousands of protesters created chaotic scenes for a second day despite stern warnings by Beijing and Hong Kong’s chief executive of dire outcomes if the protests continued.
With protesters blocking the entrances to the departure area, authorities were forced to cancel all flights from the airport – one of the world’s busiest. All check-ins had been suspended, an airport spokeswoman said just after 5pm local time. But incoming flights were expected to continue.
Hundreds of flights had been canceled earlier, while staff from Cathay Pacific were reportedly asked to leave on company buses from 2pm. With a mass of protesters in both the arrivals hall and check-in areas for departures, only a few dozen people had been able to get through in the afternoon.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration announced moves earlier in the day to help travelers get back to the mainland and boost the transfer capacity from airports in southern China.
But by the early hours of Wednesday morning the vast majority of protesters had left the building and flights began taking off on a more regular basis.
The airport’s website showed dozens of flights taking off overnight and listed hundreds more scheduled to depart throughout Wednesday, although many were delayed. An AFP reporter at departures said check-in desks were operating normally Wednesday morning and only a handful of protesters remained, most of them sleeping.
It was unclear whether the airport would again be targeted later Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a war of words erupted at a press conference held on Tuesday morning by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who warned that violent protesters were pushing the city down an abyss where it could be “smashed to pieces”.
Beijing also ramped up its propaganda saying that protesters in Hong Kong were “asking for self-destruction,” as Chinese media outlets released a video showing military vehicles massing in Shenzen near the city’s border with the mainland.
But with overseas leaders – such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell – commenting on the crisis overnight and urging a peaceful resolution to the rallies, China’s rhetoric appeared to fall on deaf ears. Some protesters told reporters they felt it was safer to gather in the airport than in other parts of the city, where people had been ambushed by triad gangs and pro-China mobs.
Lam said the city had entered an extremely “dangerous situation” over the past week and defended the police force, despite widespread anger at the “excessive use of force” and video footage suggesting that protesters were being set up for arrest by undercover police.
“The Chief Executive’s responsibility is to ensure that Hong Kong regains a safe and orderly and law-abiding city. That is my utmost responsibility,” she said.
But the Hong Kong leader was hit with a media onslaught when she finished her prepared remarks, just before a meeting of the city’s Executive Council, with questions fired by angry reporters in both Cantonese and English.
“You blame your own political misjudgment on others, and refuse to acknowledge your mistakes,” one journalist said. “When will you accept political responsibility to end citizens’ fear?… When will you be willing to step down? When will you tell the police to stop?,” the reporter from Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK asked.
The embattled Beijing-backed leader began to reply but more questions were shouted. “Citizens are afraid of you and the police, can you answer the question?”
The combative press conference was an indication of the rising tensions in the city after a weekend of violence that left dozens of people with injuries, some of them serious.
Under the “One country, two systems” policy, the media in Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unheard of on the mainland. A broad spectrum of political leanings are represented, from fiesty independent elements to strongly pro-Beijing outlets.
Lam at times appeared caught off-guard by the intensity of the questioning, with reporters repeatedly interrupting her and accusing her of failing to respond.
Appearing to get emotional, Lam said Hong Kong had already been badly torn apart and the city would need a very long time to recover. She urged people to calm down to think whether they want to push the city down a “deep abyss”.
The barrage continued as she abruptly left the podium: “Do you have a conscience?” one journalist shouted.
“Mrs Lam, many citizens have been asking recently when you will die,” yelled another.
Hong Kong has endured 10 weeks of protests – some of the biggest ever seen in the city – since June, when the Lam administration tried to pass an amendment to the extradition law that would allow citizens to face trial on the mainland. The bill has been suspended but the protesters want it scrapped. They have also called for protesters not be prosecuted under harsh provisions of the anti-riot law, but these demands have also been ignored.
Protests in various districts over the weekend continued with some turning ugly. A female protester had her right eye ruptured after being hit by a suspected beanbag round fired by a police officer in Tsim Sha Tsui. And late on Sunday, police fired teargas inside Kwai Chung MTR station and shot pepper balls at protesters from very close range in Tai Koo MTR station.
On Monday, China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said radical protests in Hong Kong were starting to show “signs of terrorism”.
Later on Tuesday, however, a senior United Nations official voiced concern over force used against protesters during the demonstrations and called for an impartial probe.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged a “prompt, independent, impartial investigation” into alleged excessive force by police against the protesters, her spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.
The business community has begun to get worried.
The Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong published a statement in newspapers condemning the escalation of violence and the “damage that protesters have done to society.” It also voiced support for Lam and the police force.
Some 41 property companies signed the statement, including Cheung Kong Holdings, New World Development, Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited, Hung Lung Properties, Wheelock Properties and others.
Tycoon Peter Woo Kwong-ching, a former chairman of Wheelock Properties, wrote a commentary on Hong Kong Economic Journal on Monday, appealing to protesters to stop resorting to “unlawful acts of violence and intimidation, against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
Woo said the five demands made by protesters were excessive and beyond the basic law.
With reporting by AFP
Also read: HK police deny framing, beating protester