Hong Kong violence escalates as police and protesters clash
Hundreds of protesters staged a sit-in at Hong Kong’s international airport Friday, the first of three days of demonstrations against the city’s China-backed government after clashes last weekend.
Swarms of people wearing the black shirts favored by protesters sat on the ground of Terminal 1’s arrivals hall, holding signs and chanting “Free Hong Kong! Free Hong Kong!” and other slogans as crowds watched. Cathay Pacific Airlines Ltd.’s flight attendants’ union encouraged aviation industry staff to participate and said it would set up a specific area for its members. As of 6 p.m. there were no major service disruptions.
Aviation workers passed around a petition to the government protesting tear gas and street fighting that rocked parts of the city Sunday. Staff from the airport authority, various airlines, restaurants and shops lined up to sign it. Protesters greeted arriving passengers with signs reading “Final Destination Hong Kong to Freedom” and “Welcome to Hong Kong, a city run by police & gangsters.”
The protest was the first in a series as the former British colony enters its eighth-straight weekend of unrest sparked by now-suspended legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The movement has swelled into a wider anti-government campaign that includes demands for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation and an inquiry into excessive use of force against protesters.
The protest at Asia’s busiest international airport underscores the economic risk of continued unrest, with local retailers bracing for a single-to-double-digit drop sales as demonstrations keep tourists out of shops. In recent weeks, the protests have spilled over from government districts to malls and railway stations, impacting more ordinary residents.
The protesters, which have continued despite government apologies and promises not to pass the extradition bill, have rallied around the cause of demonstrators and bystanders attacked by stick-wielding mobs Sunday in the northwestern suburb of Yuen Long. Many vowed to return to the area for a rally against the violence Saturday, even though police had withheld permission citing fears of more clashes.
“The protest is a way to show that Hong Kong people have had enough of this and hope the government will stop the violence,” Marco Chan, a 23-year-old legal analyst. “For those of my friends who decide to go, they think that what happened in Yuen Long last week is too outrageous for them not to step up and show how angry they are.”
Chan said he expected to be joined at the demonstration by his pro-establishment father who was outraged by what he saw as an inadequate police response. At least 45 people were injured in the attacks.
Authorities later arrested a dozen men, including at least nine with suspected links to the city’s notorious triad gangs who have long had a large presence in the area. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo has defended officers’ conduct in Yuen Long, saying those who had arrived on scene were outnumbered and not properly equipped to respond.
The city’s No. 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, urged Hong Kong residents to “to express their demands in a peaceful and rational way” in a rare news conference before Saturday’s march. He said the government took “a very serious attitude” toward the possibility of violence and said, “We cannot rule out the possibility of large number of people turning up.”
The outbursts of violence, including clashes between police and protesters near China’s liaison office in the city on Sunday, have put pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to find a solution. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urged China in a Bloomberg Television interview Thursday to “do the right thing” in Hong Kong and called on all parties to avoid violence. China’s foreign ministry had earlier urged the U.S. to remove its “black hand” from the city.
The Chinese government “would like to make sure there are reasons in Hong Kong to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China,” Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Daiwa Capital Markets Hong Kong Ltd., said in a note Friday. “Having another 1 million people taking to the streets on October 1 would be undesirable for the party.”
On Sunday, protesters also plan to march from centrally located Chater Garden on Hong Kong Island toward the western neighborhood of Sheung Wan. That will bring them close to China’s local government office, where a vandalism during a rally last week prompted warnings from Beijing.
The protests are “not only expressing grievances, but also showing that we don’t support any illegal violence in our society and also that the social order cannot be ignored by the police force in Hong Kong,” said opposition lawmaker Au Nok-hin. “The violence happened last weekend in Yuen Long has had a very great impact on Hong Kong society.”
--With assistance from Kyunghee Park, Stephen Engle, Dominic Lau, Justin Chin and Stephen Tan.