Just hours after travel to and from Hong Kong resumed on Tuesday, a new round of protests succeeded in shutting down the territory’s global transit hub all over again.
“Terminal operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted, and all check-in processes have now been suspended,” a statement on the airport website read. “Affected passengers please contact their respective airlines for flight arrangement.”
Speaking at a press conference earlier Tuesday, the semiautonomous territory’s leader, Carrie Lam, said demonstrations could push Hong Kong “down a path of no return” and claimed that protesters had created “a state of panic and chaos.”
“Hong Kong, as an open, free, very tolerant, economically stable city, will see severe wounds,” Lam said.
‘Smashed to pieces?’
Protests began 10 weeks ago in opposition to a bill that would allow the territory to extradite people facing criminal charges to mainland China, but the movement has expanded to include wider calls for democracy. Demonstrators say they want to fight the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that, on paper, had enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997. They have also documented excessive force by police, who have attempted to put down demonstrations with tear gas and bean bag pellets fired at close range.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Lam did not address protesters’ demands for an independent inquiry — or her resignation. “I ask everybody to put aside our differences and calm down, take a minute to look at our city, our home,” Lam said. “Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?”
Reporters repeatedly interrupted Lam on Tuesday. She dodged a question about whether she had the power to end the standoff by granting one of the key demands of the protesters: to fully withdraw the now-suspended bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.
Defending officers, Lam said police were bound by “rigid and stringent guidelines on the appropriate use of force” and faced “extremely difficult circumstances.”
The United States, Canada and European Union have called on all sides to show restraint and avoid violence that could escalate the situation in one of the world’s main business hubs. In addition to weak data from India and Singapore, protests have fed investor anxiety. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell dropped by about 2%. Regional benchmarks —Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney — retreated.
mkg, cw/rg (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)