Hong Kong airport resumed operations on Wednesday, rescheduling hundreds of flights that had been disrupted over the past two days as protesters clashed with riot police in a deepening crisis in the city.
About 30 protesters remained at the airport early on Wednesday while workers scrubbed it clean of blood and debris from overnight. Check-in counters reopened to queues of weary travelers who had waited overnight for their flights.
Police condemned violent acts by protesters overnight and said on Wednesday a large group had “harassed and assaulted a visitor and a journalist”.
Five people were detained, bringing the total number of people arrested since the protests began in June to more than 600, police said.
The Airport Authority said on Tuesday that operations at the international airport had been seriously disrupted, as riot police used pepper spray to disperse thousands of black-clad protesters.
Check-in operations at the airport were suspended late on Tuesday afternoon, a day after an unprecedented shutdown. Thousands of peaceful protesters had swarmed the arrivals and departures halls earlier on Tuesday, chanting, singing and waving banners.
However, some protesters used luggage trolleys to blockade the doors to customs checkpoints.
Protesters also scuffled with police later in the evening and several police vehicles were blocked amid heated scenes, according to Reuters witnesses.
Scuffles broke out after an injured man was held by a group of protesters. Some claimed he was an undercover mainland Chinese agent and initially refused to let him leave.
Medics, however, bundled him onto a stretcher and forced their way through jeering throngs to an ambulance.
Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters and riot police moved in amid chaotic scenes, using pepper spray to keep people back. A policeman pulled out a gun at one point.
Protesters also barricaded some passageways in the airport with luggage trolleys, metal barriers and other objects.
Others clambered onto check-in counters as the protesters appeared to control part of the airport for a short while. At least two protesters were taken away by police.
Another mainland Chinese man was held and tied down by protesters at the airport after they thought he was posing as a reporter.
The editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper, Hu Xijin, tweeted that the man was a journalist with the paper. He was later taken away by ambulance.
The situation calmed down after a few hours without the violence worsening, and the crowds thinned out. Hong Kong media reported that an injunction had been issued by a court to clear the airport of protesters.
The weeks of protests began as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China and have swelled into wider calls for democracy.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong since China took it back from Britain in 1997.
The increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters have roiled the Asian financial hub. Hong Kong’s stock market fell to a seven-month low on Tuesday.
A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Freedoms of expression and assembly are core values that we share with the people of Hong Kong and these freedoms should be protected.”
The United Nations human rights commissioner, Michele Bachelet, urged Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of their forces firing tear gas at protesters in ways banned under international law.
China responded by saying her comments sent the wrong signal to “violent criminal offenders”.
Chief Executive Lam made an appeal for calm and restraint.
“Take a minute to look at our city, our home,” she said on Tuesday morning, her voice cracking, at a news conference in the newly-fortified government headquarters complex.
“I think paralyzing the airport will be effective in forcing Carrie Lam to respond to us … it can further pressure Hong Kong’s economy,” said Dorothy Cheng, a 17-year-old protester.
Despite the trouble, some flights were still scheduled to take off early on Wednesday morning with some tourists still waiting in the departure hall and dining areas, according to Reuters journalists in the airport.
Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said flights might still be canceled at short notice. Reuters
– Contact us at [email protected]