Hundreds gather at airport in planned 3-day sit-in protest

August 09, 2019 17:54
Black-clad protesters sit in the arrivals hall of the Hong Kong airport on Friday, the latest in a series of anti-government demonstrations that have rocked the city over the past two months. Photo: Reuters

Hundreds of demonstrators began a sit-in at the Hong Kong airport on Friday, setting off another round of protest actions in the city for the weekend that will put the government on high alert.

Wearing black, the protesters occupied a large part of the open area in the arrivals hall in Terminal 1, and vowed to stay there until Sunday, aiming to draw greater international attention to their campaign to protect Hong Kong's freedoms and autonomy.

The airport sit-in, the second of its kind since the anti-extradition bill movement started in June, was staged without approval from the authorities, making it effectively an unlawful assembly.

Still, there was little sign of police presence, and the situation was peaceful as of Friday afternoon.

In a previous action on July 26, members of the aviation industry and others staged a sit-in at the transport facility, voicing their anger over suspected gangster attacks in Yuen Long that mostly targeted anti-government protesters.

Following the latest action, authorities said the airport would operate normally, though some special arrangements had to be put to ensure smooth check-in experience for passengers.

In a notice issued Thursday, the Airport Authority (AA) said only departing passengers holding air tickets or boarding passes and travel documents, besides airport and airline workers holding proof of staff identity, will be allowed into the check-in area of the departure hall in Terminal 1.

The "access control" arrangement would be in place from Friday to Sunday, 6 am to 11:59 pm.

The authority’s move came after some activists called a three-day assembly from Friday in the arrival hall of the airport, without applying for a letter of no objection as required by the police.

The mass sit-in was aimed at highlighting five demands, namely total withdrawal of the extradition bill, amnesty for arrested protesters, retraction of the "rioting" label on the protests, independent inquiry into police conduct, and the resignation of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as the city's chief executive.

Organizers said the assembly would be a peaceful protest and that there would be no actions such as storming of facilities or defacing or damaging the infrastructure.

After gathering in the arrivals hall on Friday, the demonstrators waved banners and distributed leaflets in multiple languages, saying they hope visitors would understand the current situation of Hong Kong.

Slogans were chanted, including “Hongkongers, add oil!”

Among the leaflets, Reuters reported, was one bearing this message for the foreign visitors arriving in Hong Kong: “Please forgive us for the ‘unexpected’ Hong Kong. You’ve arrived in a broken, torn-apart city, not the one you have once pictured. Yet for this Hong Kong, we fight.”

Due to a huge number of participants, some of them had moved to the group reception area of the arrival hall to continue their protest.

In an earlier statement, the AA said it was aware of plans for a demonstration at the airport, and that except the controlled area, other sections of the departure and arrival halls remain open to the public.

John Tse Chun-chung, an officer from the police's public relations unit, told media on Thursday that the police are aware that several countries have issued travel warnings to Hong Kong, calling on their citizens to exercise caution.

It is hoped that protesters gathering at the airport “will be peaceful and law-abiding”, Tse said, adding that the demonstrators "should not commit any disorderly acts that will affect both citizens and visitors.”

“The international airport is a very busy place. Although the past public gatherings held there had been peaceful, we have seen an escalation of violence used by protesters on other occasions over the past weeks”, Tse said.

In other comments, Tse urged those who plan to travel in the next few days to monitor the latest information from the airport and airlines and to mind their safety.

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