Major Disruption at Hong Kong Airport After Violent Weekend Protests

Iain Marlow, Aaron Mc Nicholas and Fion Li
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Major Disruption at Hong Kong Airport After Violent Weekend Protests

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong protesters caused major disruptions to the city’s international airport Sunday, massing outside the building in an attempt to paralyze transport to and from the facility.

MTR Corp., operator of the city’s rail system, canceled express trains to the airport, while demonstrators blocked buses from leaving the airport terminal. Protesters vandalized turnstiles at some stations and sprayed graffiti on them. Airport Authority Hong Kong obtained an injunction last month against people holding demonstrations there and a later one preventing them from blocking roads.

Sunday’s civil action followed a night of some of the worst violence in the city since the anti-China demonstrations began almost three months ago. Police arrested 63 people in running battles across Hong Kong, with tear gas and two warning shots fired by officers in a standoff with a crowd. The youngest person held was 13 years old.

It’s the 13th straight weekend of historic political unrest in the Asian financial center as rallies over a now-suspended bill to allow extraditions to China widened into a push for greater democracy. The violence came after police denied permission for the mass rally and arrested several prominent pro-democracy activists, warning others could also be detained for taking part in unauthorized assemblies.

Facilities at 32 train stations, including glass windows of station control rooms, ticket issuing machines, gates and security cameras were “severely damaged,” MTR said in a statement. Rail services were interrupted after riot police were called to a station because of a clash between protesters and other passengers. Police used batons and pepper spray on passengers. The rail operator, which had earlier planned to shut some subway stations for repairs, said Monday that all stops will now open.

Demonstrators also gathered outside the U.K. consulate on Sunday, many of them waving British flags. The protest was called to press their demands that Britain confirm China has violated the Sino-British Joint Declaration by not granting democracy to Hong Kong; and that the U.K. grant full citizenship to British National (Overseas) passport holders.

Unauthorized Assembly

Police arrested 40 for offences including participating in an unauthorized assembly, criminal damage and obstructing police officers, Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu said at a press conference held in the early hours of Sunday morning. Separately, 11 people were arrested in Causeway Bay and Sai Wan for possessing weapons Saturday, she said. The warning shots were fired because there were “serious threats” to the lives of its officers, police said.

Numerous protesters on Saturday said arrests of activists last week -- which included Joshua Wong, who led an earlier wave of protests in 2014 -- had angered many and drawn people to the streets as they fight to preserve democratic freedoms. Some vowed to continue protests in the coming days and said they were resorting to increasingly radical tactics, including targeting the city’s busy international airport, because the government didn’t listen after peaceful rallies of almost 2 million people.

“Hopefully they will hear us if we do these kind of aggressive actions,” said Cheung, a 23-year-old protester clad in goggles and a gas mask, who only gave his surname. “There’ve been lots of peaceful protests and there was no response from the government. That’s why we’re being more aggressive and trying to disrupt the Hong Kong economy,” he said as police fired tear gas nearby at protesters pelting the city’s Legislative Council complex with eggs and bricks.

The rally, called by the organizer of some of the city’s biggest protests, was canceled after failing to get police approval. It was originally planned to coincide with a decree from Beijing five years ago that dashed the hopes of many for true democracy in the former colony and helped set off the Occupy protest movement in 2014.

‘Universal Suffrage’

“We’re here to protest that decision and to tell the Chinese government we do not agree with anything that is a barrier to our democracy, our universal suffrage,” said a 21-year-old student protester, who only gave his first name, Hugo.

Demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and bricks, and set aflame a massive road block and vowed to drag out the protests until their demands were met. Police responded with tear gas, water cannons spraying blue dye and repeated baton charges.

On Saturday, the Hong Kong government issued a formal statement on the issue, repeating that universal suffrage is the “ultimate aim,” but that election reforms will take place “in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.”

The ongoing unrest represents the biggest threat to Beijing’s oversight of Hong Kong since the return to Chinese rule in 1997, and is a geopolitical embarrassment for President Xi Jinping as his government gets set to celebrate 70 years of communist rule on Oct. 1.

As demonstrations drag out, protesters and the Hong Kong administration are being driven further apart. The government of Chief Executive Carrie Lam is refusing to rule out using a colonial-era emergency powers law, while demonstrators are ramping up disruptive protests as authorities stand firm on rejecting their demands for greater democracy.

“They are trying to scare us, but I’m ready to be arrested,” said Philip, a 60-year-old pastor who only gave his first name and marched with his wife and two children. He said that he didn’t want to see clashes between protesters and police.

Ronny Tong, a member of Lam’s advisory Executive Council, said in an interview on Friday that many Hong Kongers want to see demonstrators punished for the more violent protests that have occurred throughout the ongoing unrest.

“We are a very pluralistic society and there’s been a very loud cry from different sectors of the community who have called for the arrest of the ringleaders of people who have been rioting in the streets, you know, committing arson and assaulting police officers,” he said.

--With assistance from Gregor Stuart Hunter and Natalie Lung.

To contact the reporters on this story: Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net;Aaron Mc Nicholas in Hong Kong at amcnicholas2@bloomberg.net;Fion Li in Hong Kong at fli59@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Shamim Adam at sadam2@bloomberg.net, ;Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net, Stanley James

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