Wednesday 18 September 2019

Leader of Hong Kong defends police actions after call for ‘brutality’ inquiry

Around 200 flights were cancelled at the airport on Monday.

Riot police use pepper spray against protesters (Kin Cheung/AP)
Riot police use pepper spray against protesters (Kin Cheung/AP)

By Yanan Wang and Katie Tam, Associated Press

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam defended police actions after protesters prompted an airport shutdown with calls to investigate alleged police brutality.

Flights have been taking off as the airport works through a backlog of 200 cancelled services while a few thousand pro-democracy protesters have once again occupied the arrival hall.

Protesters have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Ms Lam’s administration to respond to their demands.

No new violence was reported, although the city is on edge after more than two months of near-daily and increasingly bloody confrontations between protesters and police.

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Protesters surround banners that read: “Those on the street today are all warriors!” (Vincent Thian/AP)

Ms Lam told reporters that dialogue would only begin when the violence stopped.

She reiterated her support for the police and said they have had to make on-the-spot decisions under difficult circumstances, using “the lowest level of force”.

“After the violence has been stopped, and the chaotic situation that we are seeing could subside,” she said, “I as the chief executive will be responsible to rebuild Hong Kong’s economy … to help Hong Kong to move on.”

She did not elaborate on what steps her government will take toward reconciliation. After two months, the protests have become increasingly divisive and prompted clashes across the city.

Software engineer Joydeep Chakravarti, whose connecting flight to San Francisco was cancelled late on Monday, was among those caught up in disruption following the protests and expressed frustration that he was told to leave the airport when he wanted to stay inside the terminal.

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A traveler leans on her bag while browsing her smartphone at the departure hall of the Hong Kong International airport (Vincent Thian/AP)

“I don’t know what’s out there, so I don’t want to leave. I didn’t make any plans for Hong Kong,” said Mr Chakravarti, who had a carry-on bag with laptop, charger and an extra shirt while the rest of his luggage already was checked in on his Singapore Airlines flight.

A massive traffic jam soon formed on the highway leading back to Hong Kong’s city centre. Some protesters were seen walking toward the airport amid the stifling heat.

The demonstrations that have drawn more than one million people at times call for democratic reforms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory and an independent inquiry into police conduct, with both protesters and police adopting ever-more extreme tactics.

On Monday, the central government in Beijing ominously characterised the protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” that posed an “existential threat” to the population.

Beijing tends to define terrorism broadly, including nonviolent movements opposing government policies on the environment or Tibet.

Hong Kong was promised certain democratic rights when China took over the then-British colony in 1997, but in recent years, some have accused Beijing of steadily eroding their freedoms.

PA Media

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