Hong Kong airport halts check-ins

UN urges restraint as protests intensify | Carrie Lam defiant at news briefing

HONG KONG, August 13 

Flights leaving Hong Kong were disrupted for a second day on Tuesday, plunging the former British colony deeper into turmoil as its stockmarket fell to a seven-month low, and its leader said it had been pushed into a state of “panic and chaos”.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged Hong Kong to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of its forces firing tear gas at protesters in ways banned under international law.

Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters have roiled the Asian financial hub as thousands of residents chafe at a perceived erosion of freedoms and autonomy under Chinese rule.

China this week condemned some protesters for using dangerous tools to attack police, calling the clashes “sprouts of terrorism”. They present President Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.

Hong Kong legal experts say Beijing might be paving the way to use anti-terror laws to try to quell the demonstrations.

Check-in operations were suspended on Tuesday, a day after an unprecedented airport shutdown, as thousands of black-clad protesters jammed the terminal, chanting, singing and waving banners.

“Take a minute to look at our city, our home,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said, her voice cracking, at a news conference in the government headquarters complex, which is fortified behind 6-foot-high water-filled barricades. “Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?”

The protests began as opposition to a now-suspended Bill that would have allowed suspects’ extradition to mainland China, but have swelled into wider calls for democracy.

At the airport, thousands of protesters gathered in the arrivals hall, as well as some parts of departures, using luggage trolleys to blockade the doors to customs checkpoints. Floors and walls were covered with missives penned by activists and other artwork. The scene was peaceful as knots of protesters spoke to travellers, explaining their aims.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, we are fighting for the future of our home,” read one protest banner at the airport. “I think paralysing the airport will be effective in forcing Carrie Lam to respond to us ... it can further pressure Hong Kong’s economy,” said Dorothy Cheng, 17.

Demonstrators say they want Lam to resign. She says she will stay. “My responsibility goes beyond this range of protest,” she said, adding that violence had pushed the territory into a state of “panic and chaos”. As she spoke, the benchmark Hang Seng index hit a seven-month low. It shed more than 2%, dragging down markets across Asia. — Reuters

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

Police use pepper spray to beat back protesters

A small group of riot police used pepper spray to beat back protesters outside the city’s airport on Tuesday night as they tried to escort a man who was being taken away in an ambulance. Around two dozen officers found their police van blocked by a few hundred hardline protesters as it followed the ambulance. The police officers jumped out of the van to clear the path, using pepper spray on the crowds and detaining at least two persons. 

China action will be catastrophe: Patten

  • Chinese intervention in Hong Kong would be a “catastrophe” and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should be more “outspoken” in putting pressure on Beijing, former governor Chris Patten said 
  • Patten told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Hong Kong was “close to the abyss”, because its leader Carrie Lam refused withdraw a controversial Bill and hold an inquiry into the reasons for the ongoing demonstrations 
  • “I think there is a degree of frustration and anger at the government refusing to give any sensible ground at all, which probably provokes more violence,” said Patten, the last British governor of the region
  • Patten warned against further ratcheting up of tensions, saying it was a “counterproductive thing for the Chinese government to do to give the impression that unless this stops quickly, they will have to consider other methods
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