HK Airport Closed Amid Police Violence Protests

HK Airport Closed Amid Police Violence Protests

As protests against a proposed, and now postponed, extradition law entered their third month in Hong Kong, authorities on Monday effectively shut down the city’s airport, one of the world’s busiest, as protesters staged a massive sit-in. By day’s end, many protesters dispersed and airport operations slowly began to return to normal. Austin Ramzy and Gerry Mullany report for The New York Times:

The airport said in an afternoon statement that all flights had been canceled for the rest of the day other than those already en route to Hong Kong. Almost 150 departures and more than two dozen arrivals were affected, according to the airport’s website.

The move was a stark display of the power of the antigovernment protests, which are now in their third month, to disrupt the basic functioning of Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub known for order and efficiency. Its airport is a crucial connection point for regional air travel.

[…] Protesters gathered at the airport throughout the afternoon on Monday, eventually filling the arrival hall in the main terminal, before more protesters went upstairs to the departure hall.

The airport said in its statement that operations had been “seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today.” A Hong Kong official called it an “illegal assembly.” [Source]

The airport protest was staged in response to incidents of police violence against protesters over the weekend, in the latest skirmishes since the protests began almost ten weeks ago. In early June, protesters took to the streets to demand the withdrawal of an extradition bill that would allow the Hong Kong government to send accused criminals to China. While Chief Executive Carrie Lam has suspended the bill, she has not fully withdrawn it. Ongoing protests since then have drawn as many as two million people to the streets. The BBC reports on the protesters’ current demands:

The protesters’ demands have changed since the beginning of the protests and they are now calling for:
*Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill
*Withdrawal of the “riot” description used about the 12 June protests
*Amnesty for all arrested protesters
*An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality
*Universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and Legislative Council elections

And some also want the resignation of Carrie Lam, who they view as a puppet of Beijing. [Source]

In several areas of the city over the past weekend, police responded to protests with tear gas, even in enclosed spaces, and by firing non-lethal projectiles, one of which hit a medic and ruptured her eye–an incident which quickly became a focus for protesters:

The BBC reports on the weekend’s violence:

One video inside Tai Koo station showed officers firing what appeared to be non-lethal ammunition at close range.

It also showed several police beating people with batons on an escalator.

In the bustling central Wan Chai district, petrol bombs and bricks were thrown at police, who responded by charging at protesters.

[…] There were confrontations in several central districts and police used non-lethal bullets in an attempt to disperse the demonstrators. Tear gas was fired in the busy shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui as well as in Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island.

One image widely shared on social media showed a woman, who was reportedly shot by a police projectile, bleeding heavily from her eye. [Source]

At a press briefing Monday, police defended their actions, including their firing of tear gas inside train stations, use of tear gas that had already expired, and deployment of undercover officers disguised as protesters. Holmes Chan reports for Hong Kong Free Press:

Top police officers on Monday defended the actions, saying that the Kwai Fong train station was an above-ground “semi-open space.” Li said that tear gas could be fired in indoor areas in emergency situations – despite its manufacturer saying otherwise in its instructions.

Police fired tear gas in Kwai Fong station because protesters inside the paid area were generating smoke and launching projectiles, Li added.

As for the use of pepperball launchers in Tai Koo station, Mak said that the weapon was meant for short-range use and was not a “firearm.” However, he was unable to tell reporters what the minimum safety distance was for firing the launcher. [Source]

As Al Jazeera has reported, protesters over the weekend have perfected their “flash mob strategy,” during which they gather and then quickly disperse to a new location:

Allegedly inspired by Bruce Lee’s advice to be “formless, shapeless, like water,” the “be water” tactic allows protesters to evade police responses. From Erin Hale at The Independent:

“Be water” can feel chaotic, with people running from one train station to the next, but it is backed by a highly disciplined strategy. Protesters are often following alerts on Telegram and a website documenting police locations or protest groups needing backup.

“If we find stopping in one place is not workable, we will go around to different place to block the gate of a police station or a government department,” the North Point protester told The Independent.

The tactic has come to play a critical role in the Hong Kong protests, now in their ninth week, and a change from initial protests such as a massive event on 12 June that felt like a battle between protesters and riot police. [Source]


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