Hong Kong’s airport authority has cancelled departure flights after thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators flooded into one of the world’s busiest air travel hubs holding signs reading “Hong Kong is not safe” and “Shame on police”.
Roads to the airport were congested and car park spaces were full, the authority said, on the fourth day of a mass demonstration there.
“Other than departure flights that have completed the check-in process and the arrival flights already heading to Hong Kong, all other flights have been cancelled for the rest of today,” a statement said.
The abrupt shutdown came as street protests across the Chinese territory entered their 10th week with no sign of either side backing down, and the Chinese government signalled its rising anger at the protesters, denouncing some of the violent demonstrations as “terrorism”.
Rights groups and democracy activists accused police of using excessive force after teargas was fired into an enclosed subway station and officers posed as protesters before making arrests during an intense weekend of clashes.
Dressed in their uniform black T-shirts and masks, protesters at the airport handed out lists to arriving visitors documenting alleged police violence, and held up graphic images of injured protesters. Many wore eye patches in reference to a female protester who sustained an eye injury.
“I just don’t understand how people can tolerate that kind of police brutality. I feel like if I don’t come out now, I can’t come out ever,” said Hilary Lo, who took a half day’s sick leave from her accountancy firm to attend the demonstration. “People are starting to realise the police are out of control, especially with what has happened in the past two weeks.”
Some of the 5,000 activists occupying the airport’s arrivals hall went to the departure area and caused disruptions, Hong Kong police told a news conference. Police declined to say if they would move to clear the demonstrators.
This summer’s increasingly violent demonstrations have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting one of the biggest challenges to China’s leader, Xi Jinping, since he came to power in 2012.
Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said: “Hong Kong’s radical demonstrators have repeatedly used extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers, which already constitutes a serious violent crime, and also shows the first signs of terrorism emerging. This wantonly tramples on Hong Kong’s rule of law and social order.”
In an apparent warning to protesters of a toughening approach on the part of authorities, Hong Kong police invited legislators and journalists on Monday to witness a display of water cannon.
Police have never used the device since two were bought after pro-democracy protests in 2014, but during Monday’s demonstration one was blasted at dummy targets in a training facility.
Last week Amnesty International said the deployment of water cannon could lead to serious injuries if misused in confined spaces. Man-Kei Tam, the director of the rights group’s Hong Kong division, said clashes between protesters and police had “escalated to another level, especially on the police side”.
Tam cited footage of police firing teargas into a subway station in Kwai Fong on Sunday night. It was not clear how many protesters were in the station but it was rare for officers to fire teargas indoors. He also shared a video of police firing non-lethal projectiles at close range as protesters attempted to flee down an escalator at another subway station.
The police have also reported injuries among their ranks, including eye irritation from laser pointers and petrol bomb burns.
Civil Rights Observer, a local rights group that sends observers to protests, said it had serious concerns about police violence and had seen “clear evidence to show the police are violating their guidelines”, according to its spokesman, Icarus Wong Ho-yin.
During the protests at the weekend, the Hong Kong Free Press news website posted footage of one arrest that appeared to show officers dressed as protesters with an demonstrator who was pressed to the ground. The young man, who said his name was Chow Ka-lok and asked for a lawyer, sustained head wounds and a broken tooth.
Protests in Hong Kong began in early June against a legislative bill that would have allowed for residents to stand trial in mainland China on criminal charges. While the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it was promised semi-autonomy for 50 years including a separate legal system. Many protesters feared the bill, now suspended, would have led to the decline of civil and political rights in the Asian financial hub.