Hong Kong was thrown into chaos on Monday as mass protests and strikes paralyzed the city with police using tear gas to quell demonstrations dotted around China’s Special Administrative Region.
More than 200 flights from the international airport were canceled, while Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned that Hong was teetering on the brink.
At a media briefing, she told protesters she would not cave into their demands to scrap a controversial extradition bill to mainland China, which has only been put on ice.
Lam also made it clear that she would not step down.
“[They] have seriously undermined Hong Kong’s law and order and are pushing our city, the city that we all love and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” she said about the protesters.
“I dare say they are trying to destroy Hong Kong,” she added.
In response, demonstrators have accused Lam of again fuelling the crisis by ignoring public sentiment.
It was “totally a waste of time” to hear her speak, Jay Leung, 20, a university student, told the Reuters news agency.
“I don’t think the government is doing anything to heal society,” he added. “They provide no solution to solve the political problem brought on by themselves.”
Amid the recriminations, many of Hong Kong’s famous areas were clouded in teargas, including Admiralty, which is close to Asia’s major financial hub of Central.
On Monday afternoon, protesters rallied in seven districts across Hong Kong. Organizers say the seven districts were Tamar Park in Admiralty, MacPherson Playground in Mongkok, Wong Tai Sin Plaza, Tin Hau Temple Fung Shui Square in Tai Po, Tuen Mun Cultural Square, Bishop Hill Hundred Stairs in Shatin and Tsuen Wan Park.
At the Tin Shui Wai Police Station, hundreds of protesters gathered after five police officers were seen taking off the dress and underpants of a female protester during an arrest on Sunday evening. The police action was recorded in video footage by people at the scene. A police spokeswoman said Monday that the female protester was struggling and not cooperative during the arrest. At about 2:30pm, riot police fired tear gas to disperse protesters surrounding the police station.
On Monday morning, protesters launched a non-cooperation campaign to disrupt MTR services and randomly blocked key roads in the city. They called for the general public to join the strike.
Services on all major MTR lines were suspended from the morning. Protesters in black with helmets and masks put debris on key roads to block traffic. They chose not to stay in one place for long as police kept chasing them.
MTR services partially resumed in the afternoon.
On Monday morning, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor held a press briefing and took a hard line against anti-extradition protests and criticized those who resorted to violence and illegal activities.
The nature of some of the recent protests had changed with protesters defacing the national emblem in the Liaison Office, taking down a national flag in Tsim Sha Tsui and throwing it into the sea, she said. She added that they called for a “revolution” in Hong Kong.
Lam said these actions challenged the “one country two systems” and were aimed at destroying Hong Kong. The government would not tolerate anyone using violence and disruptions to public order, she added.
She also refused to totally withdraw the suspended extradition bill and step down. She said it was her job to resolve the case as she was the one who had proposed the extradition bill amendment.
Asked by the media whether the government would set up an independent commission to investigate the political turmoil, Lam said the Independent Police Complaints Council had been investigating the case.
Lam also said the government and police would hold media briefings every day from Monday to inform the public about the latest situation in society and with public services. People should continue to work on Monday as a strike was not good for Hong Kong, said Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.
The Hong Kong economy declined by 0.3% in the second quarter, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said. Hong Kong will technically fall into a recession if its quarter-to-quarter economic growth in the third quarter is negative, he added.
Chan called for the protesters to rethink their strategies as political instability would hurt Hong Kong’s economy.
Lam’s continued hard stance against the protests would not help reduce political tensions in society, Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a senior lecturer and prominent scholar at the Chinese University Hong Kong, was quoted as saying in an RTHK interview.
It was likely Lam was waiting for a decision from Beijing about how to handle the situation, Choy added. There was no sign that Beijing would send in People’s Liberation Army troops to Hong Kong in the short term as it may make the situation more complicated, he said.
More than 200 flights were canceled in Hong Kong on Monday morning with airport authorities warning passengers of potential disruption, as pro-democracy protesters kick off a city-wide strike.
Operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been hit severely as one-third of air traffic controllers have joined the ongoing anti-extradition bill protest.
One of the busiest airports in the world has drastically reduced its flight operations and using just one runway from the usual two.
The Airport Authority warned that the planned strike might affect not only airlines but airport operations.
It advised passengers to check with their airlines for the latest information, and only proceed to the airport when their seats and flight time have been confirmed.