Protesters, passengers flee Hong Kong airport after flights nixed



HONG KONG, Erin Hale and Simina Mistreanu (dpa)- Hong Kong International Airport was in chaos on Monday as thousands of passengers and protesters streamed out of its main terminal building after flights were cancelled due to anti-government protests.
Passengers appeared distraught due to a shortage of buses and taxis, with many choosing to walk to the nearest subway station, which is located about 3 kilometres from the terminal.




"The real issue here is that nobody knows what’s going on and [getting] answers out of anybody is impossible because all the people we need to speak to have been sent home," said South African tourist Conor Whelan, who was en route to London from Bali. 
Whelan was among many tourists who were uncertain whether to remain at the airport until flights are due to resume at 6 am (2200 GMT) or to depart for fear of possible police clashes. 
Protesters were facing a similar conundrum. Crowds were considerably thinner by 8 pm than they were before flights were cancelled, when thousands of protesters had crammed into the arrivals hall. 
Protester Nathan Hui told dpa that he and his friends had yet to decide whether to remain at the airport amid reports that police were nearby. 
"We saw what they did yesterday in the [subway] station, so we are kind of worried,” he said, referring to the police's use of tear gas at Kwai Fong subway station. "But there are tourists around here so I think they might not use the tear gas inside the airport." 
The airport arrivals hall was full of signs listing the protesters' demands, which include the permanent withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's resignation, an inquiry into police violence and the release of all detained protesters.
Monday’s protest also sought to draw attention to police brutality over the weekend, with protesters chanting that police should "return the eye" of a protester who was seriously injured by a non-lethal bullet. 
Many also carried images of police-protester clashes from the weekend or wore symbolic patches over one eye. 
China’s Hong Kong affairs department said on Monday that anti-government protesters had “begun to show signs of terrorism,” according to spokesman Yang Guang.
“Such violent crimes must be resolutely cracked down upon in accordance with the law,” he said, adding that Beijing supported Hong Kong's police and judiciary in “bringing criminals to justice as soon as possible.”
Protests began on June 9 against a now-suspended legislative bill that would have allowed for criminal extradition to mainland China. 
While Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has a separate legal system until 2047 under the “one country, two systems” arrangement. 
Lam has failed to withdraw the extradition bill even though it was suspended, and has declined to launch an independent commission into police violence. 
Sunday marked the first time that police fired tear gas into a subway station, and also marked the first deployment of undercover police officers who disguised themselves as protesters, according to Civil Rights Observer, a protest watchdog. 
"Police are escalating force. You can see they clearly violate safety guidelines when they fired tear gas into an enclosed area in an MTR station,” said spokesman Icarus Wong. 
Protest observers also said police appeared to use excessive force against protesters who were already subdued, including by hitting them with batons. 
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Monday, August 12th 2019
Erin Hale and Simina Mistreanu (dpa)
           


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