Wednesday 18 September 2019

Sit-in hits Hong Kong airport

Protesters escalate actions as city's leader vows to stop violence

Warnings: Placards were held up to tell incoming travellers of the police use of tear gas during protests. Photo: Reuters
Warnings: Placards were held up to tell incoming travellers of the police use of tear gas during protests. Photo: Reuters

Christopher Bodeen

Hong Kong dissidents staged a sit-in at the airport yesterday as the city's leader Carrie Lam said her priority was to "stop the violence" of the two-month-old protests.

Ms Lam, who has been urged to resign by the protesters, signalled she was not prepared to make political concessions to them.

She said traffic disruptions and confrontations between police and protesters have hurt the economy, particularly the retail and food and beverage sectors.

The demonstrations, however, are not abating and more are planned for this weekend, including at the airport.

Police said they had not received a formal application for yesterday's airport protest and warned against violence or disruptions that could endanger public safety.

They have also issued four objection letters for marches planned for the weekend.

Signs held by protesters in the arrival hall yesterday included ones saying: "There are no rioters, only tyranny."

Pamphlets stacked in piles warned visitors of the heavy use of tear gas by police.

While the airport appeared to be operating normally, extra identification checks were in place for both travellers and employees, and airlines were advising passengers to arrive earlier than usual for check-in.

However, China's Civil Aviation Authority issued a warning to Cathay Pacific about the involvement of its staff in "riots".

It said starting this weekend, all Cathay Pacific personnel "involved in and supporting illegal demonstrations" will no longer be able to fly to mainland China or work there in air transportation.

During a general strike on Monday, more than 100 flights were cancelled because airline and airport employees were participating in the protest. Cathay Pacific was among the airlines most affected by the strike.

At a briefing, senior Hong Kong police officer Vasco Williams said the force did not plan to issue an outright ban on demonstrations but would gauge each application based on the ability of organisers to maintain order.

"The police will closely monitor the situation this weekend and make respective deployment as necessary. It will be dependent on what happens at the time," said Mr Williams, who is operations superintendent for the district of New Territories North.

He and other senior officers at the briefing repeatedly declined to answer questions about police tactics, including the alleged use of expired tear gas, or the recall from retirement of former Deputy Commissioner Lau Yip-shing, who oversaw the response to pro-democracy protests five years ago in which police were accused of using excessive force.

Police testing of water cannons for possible use against protesters has also drawn concern, with Amnesty International calling for "extreme caution" in any such deployment.

A Hong Kong government statement referring to travel safety warnings issued by several countries yesterday appeared to acknowledge the potential for the protests to devastate the crucial travel industry.

Tourist arrivals dropped 26pc at the end of last month compared to a year earlier and are continuing to fall.

The protests were sparked by proposals to allow extradition to mainland China but have expanded into calls for broader democratic reforms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Ms Lam said yesterday that an inquiry into police actions would not be appropriate while they are still carrying out operations in response to the demonstrations.

Residents accused law enforcement of gross negligence after 44 civilians were attacked by a gang with batons in a rail station last month.

Hong Kong police say 592 people have been arrested since June 9, ranging in age from 13 to 76. They face charges including rioting, which allows for prison terms of up to 10 years.

Irish Independent

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