Airport Cleans Up After Night of Protest Chaos: Hong Kong Update

Yvonne Man, Fion Li and Shawna Kwan
Airport Cleans Up After Night of Protest Chaos: Hong Kong Update

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s airport resumed normal operations after a chaotic night of protest in which demonstrators beat and detained two suspected infiltrators and President Donald Trump warned of Chinese troops massing on the border.

Only a few dozen protesters remained at Hong Kong International Airport as of 6 a.m. Wednesday, most having caught the last trains away from the airport rather than face dispersal by authorities. Flights appeared to be largely running as scheduled. Earlier Tuesday, hundreds of people staged a sit-in at the departure gates, disrupting flights at Asia’s busiest international airport for the second straight day.

The interruptions follow a weekend of violence that saw police fire tear gas into a subway station and shoot rubber bullets at close range. Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam warned Tuesday that the city risked sliding into an “abyss” as continuing unrest weighed on the economy.

Here’s the latest:

Airport Works to Reschedule Flights (6:22 a.m.)

Hong Kong International Airport had resumed normal operations and was working to reschedule flights, an Airport Authority spokesman said by phone Wednesday. A few dozen protesters were still camped out in the terminals’ public areas, with most having cleared out before the trains back to the city centers stopped running. Most banners were gone.

Few Protesters Remain at Airport (6 a.m.)

Only a few dozen protesters were still camped out in the Hong Kong International Airport’s arrival hall early Wednesday, with most having cleared out before the trains back to the city centers stopped running. Most banners were gone and airport seemed to be operating fine, with flight boards showing most flights scheduled to depart.

U.S. Urges Respect for Hong Kong’s Rights (1:51 a.m.)

A U.S. State Department official urged China to adhere to the agreements it made when taking control of Hong Kong from the U.K. and allow the city to “exercise a high degree of autonomy” while respecting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The statement -- from an official who asked not to be identified -- was the most forceful to date from the U.S. and followed a tweet from Trump, who said reports from American intelligence agencies show China is moving troops to its border with Hong Kong. It wasn’t immediately clear if Trump was referring to new developments or mobilizations that have been underway for the past week.

“Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong,” Trump said in a tweet. “Everyone should be calm and safe!”

Chinese State Media Reporter Evacuated (12:25 a.m.)

A second man who was tied up and beaten by protesters has been evacuated by paramedics. He appeared conscious as he was carried away on a stretcher.

Protesters accused the man of being an undercover police officer from the mainland. But the editor-in-chief of the Chinese and English editions of the Global Times said he’s a reporter for the paper, which is affiliated with the Communist Party in China. “He has no other task except for reporting,” Hu Xijin said in a tweet.

Trump Says He Hopes No One Gets Hurt, Killed (12:15 a.m.)

China is facing a “tough situation” in Hong Kong, Trump told reporters in New Jersey. “I’m sure it will work out. I hope nobody gets hurt, I hope nobody gets killed.”

Trump earlier this month referred to the protests in Hong Kong as “riots,” adopting the language used by Beijing and suggesting the U.S. would stay out of an issue that was “between Hong Kong and China.” That gets harder and harder as the situation escalates.

Police Leave the Building, Protesters Dig in (11:46 p.m.)

Protesters tied up another man they say was an undercover police officer from the mainland -- this one they accused of pretending to be a reporter.

Riot Police Enter Airport (11:20 p.m.)

Hong Kong police enter airport wearing riot gear and appeared to make several arrests. They used pepper spray outside the building.

Police tweeted that it isn’t “a dispersal operation.” Officers were seen lingering outside the terminal building after an initial fracas.

Injured Man is Evacuated from Airport (11:00 p.m.)

Medics carrying the man on a stretcher push their way through crowds to an ambulance waiting outside. Scuffles break out between remaining police and protesters.

Protesters Beat Man, Prevent Rescuers From Helping (10:23 p.m.)

Protesters beat and tied up a man they say is a mainland police officer who was pretending to be one of them. For the past few hours they have prevented paramedics from evacuating the man while shouting “You’ll bear the consequences for your own actions.”

Ten weeks of protests have seen serious injuries, but so far no fatalities. A death at the hands of protesters would ramp up pressure on authorities to crack down further, and increase the odds that the Chinese government mobilizes mainland forces to help maintain order.

First Aiders Help Man Who Appears to Have Fainted (9:31 p.m.)

Protesters tied up the hands a man they allege is a mainland public security officer, saying he was masquerading as one of them. Hundreds of people gather round as ambulance and airport staff try to help the man.

Remaining Check-Ins Canceled (6:52 p.m.)

Hong Kong’s airport halted check-ins for remaining departures for a second straight day, the airport authority said in a statement, after protesters blocked outgoing gates in a dramatic sit-in. The cancellation of all check-ins was announced after hundreds of black-shirted protesters sat down in the airport’s departure halls. The move came a day after authorities shut the airport amid a mass rally in the arrival hall Monday.

China’s Leader Faces a Dilemma (6:14 p.m.)

It’s the question worrying some in Hong Kong: Will Chinese President Xi Jinping send in troops to restore order? Xi now faces a dilemma over whether to wait the protesters out or bring in his forces. The likelihood he’ll do that remains low. While Xi could choose to do away with the city’s autonomy, there would be immense cost to both the Chinese leader and his country. It could dwarf any fallout from the weekslong protest movement. Among those risk factors is his protracted trade war with the U.S.

Mainland Airports Stand To Benefit (5:52 p.m.)

The disruptions at Hong Kong’s airport could be a boon for its competitors. It drove big gains Tuesday in shares of airports just over the Chinese border. Shenzhen Airport Co. soared by the 10% daily limit, while Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Co. was up 4.5% to a record high. They had also rallied Monday. The unrest may lead global carriers to re-evaluate Hong Kong’s role as an international hub and flights allocated there, helping megacity Shenzhen establish itself as a hub in the longer run, Citic Securities Co. said.

Cathay Parent Backs Government (5:35 p.m.)

Cathay Pacific’s parent company, Swire Pacific Ltd., said it has “consistently and resolutely” supported Hong Kong’s development and remains fully committed to the city.

UN Agency Urges Restraint (5:29 p.m.)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned police for firing tear gas directly at protesters, saying they created “a considerable risk of death or serious injury.” It also urged protesters to express their views peacefully. The office “reviewed credible evidence of law enforcement officials employing less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards,” spokesman Rupert Colville said in a statement.

Departure Gates Closed (4:23 p.m.)

The airport closed its north and south departure gates at international Terminal 1, leaving long lines of passengers who had already checked in to wait for further instruction.

The closures came as Hong Kong police said at a daily briefing that officers fired 58 rounds of tear gas and seven rounds of rubber bullets as violence escalated Saturday, moves that helped fuel protester anger.

Protests Spread to Departures Hall (3:32 p.m.)

Hundreds of black-shirted protesters spread to the airport’s departures area, bringing passenger check-ins to a crawl. Demonstrators sat on the floor and blocked the route to the terminal’s north departure gates as they chanted “Shame on Hong Kong police.” A trickle of passengers were still getting through, but others remained in a long line, some sitting warily with their luggage carts. The crew channel was closed off. As the crowd of protesters shifted, the arrivals hall largely emptied out.

“They shoot press, they shoot first aid, they are HK police,” one protester’s sign read.

Patten: China Intervention Would Be ‘Catastrophe’ (2:20 p.m.)

Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, Chris Patten, told the BBC on Tuesday that the government’s refusal to formally withdraw the extradition bill and set up an independent inquiry into the protests was to blame for pushing Hong Kong to the abyss. He urged President Xi Jinping and the local government to seek reconciliation avoid forcibly suppressing protests. “That would be a catastrophe,” said Patten, who served as governor from 1992 to 1997.

Plans for Sunday March Detailed (1:19 p.m.)

The Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organized three historically large marches against the extradition bill in June and July, detailed plans to hold a similar public procession at 3 p.m. Sunday. The group’s challenge will be maintaining the largely peaceful atmosphere of the earlier events as some protests turn to violence and the police employ more forceful measures to disperse them. It’s unclear whether CHRF will get sign-off from the police, who have been withholding approval from some marches.

Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo, a prominent participant in CHRF protests, separately called Lam’s contention that she didn’t have authority over the police force “irresponsible.” “It’s very clear right now who is running Hong Kong, and that’s Beijing,” Mo said.

Airport Train Services Cut (12:51 p.m.)

Hong Kong’s Airport Authority announced that trains between downtown and the terminals would depart less frequently after 1 p.m. in a bid to control crowds. The agency said fewer trains were necessary due to reduced flights at the airport. Trains would run at 15-minute intervals instead of the usual 10-minute span, an agency spokesman said.

Travelers Confront Protesters at Airport (11:15 a.m.)

Some travelers whose flights were disrupted by the airport protests confronted demonstrators, including one man speaking the Mandarin Chinese dialect preferred on the mainland, who complained that his trip had been delayed by a day. One protester apologized to the man, explaining that the government wouldn’t listen to their demands. Others shrugged off the delays.

Lam: Police Used ‘Lowest Level’ Force (10:14 a.m.)

Lam said police used the “lowest level of force” when asked why they had fired tear gas in residential areas, as she held a regular question and answer session ahead of a meeting of the city’s Executive Council. She urged calm, a refrain in recent weeks as violence between protesters and police worsens and tear gas is regularly deployed in crowded areas across the city.

At one point, she was interrupted by reporters as she sidestepped questions on whether she would resign -- a key protester demand -- and whether she had concrete proposals to ease residents’ fears.

“It would take a very long time to restore Hong Kong,” she said, choking up. “I again call on everyone to set aside prejudice, and be calm to look at the city, our home -- do we really want to push it into the abyss?”

Read more on the potential toll of the unrest on Hong Kong’s economy

Lam Says Hong Kong in Chaos (9:48 a.m.)

After her session began, Lam asked the public whether they wanted to see Hong Kong fall into an abyss and said the city was in a chaotic situation.

The city’s rule of law is being hurt, she said, and non-cooperation events affected the airport and traffic. Lam also said she saw further suffering for the city’s economy, and that dialogue between the two sides could resume after violence stops.

Protesters Call for Return to Airport (9 a.m.)

Some protesters called for a return to the airport at 1 p.m. Tuesday, circulating a flier online calling for people to gather featuring an airplane and blue sky.

Hong Kong Airlines vowed its support for the city’s government and police and condemned protester violence in a half-page advertisement in pro-Beijing local newspaper Wen Wei Po. It came as state-run Air China Ltd. canceled dozens of scheduled flights to the city on Tuesday, citing issues at the airport in a post to its official account on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Read more from Monday’s scene at Hong Kong’s airport

(A previous version of this story was corrected after the Airport Authority revised its statement to show flights still departing, check-in closed.)

--With assistance from Iain Marlow, Sebastian Chau, Annabelle Droulers, Stephen Engle, Justin Sink and Annie Lee.

To contact the reporters on this story: Yvonne Man in Hong Kong at yman9@bloomberg.net;Fion Li in Hong Kong at fli59@bloomberg.net;Shawna Kwan in Hong Kong at wkwan35@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, John Harney

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