HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Demonstrators crowded the arrivals hall at Hong Kong airport on Friday (Aug 9), handing out anti-government leaflets and waving banners in a dozen languages in an effort to raise awareness among visitors ahead of a weekend of protests planned across the city.
Several hundred protesters, mostly young and wearing black T-shirts, gave out flyers headlined "Dear travellers" above artwork depicting the months-long protests that have plunged the financial hub into its biggest crisis since its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
"Please forgive us for the 'unexpected' Hong Kong," the English leaflets read. "You've arrived in a broken, torn-apart city, not the one you have once pictured. Yet for this Hong Kong, we fight," the flyers said.
Hong Kong's Airport Authority said on Friday that only departing passengers with travel documents will be allowed to enter the terminal.
The move comes as officials confirmed on Friday that a police commander who oversaw pro-democracy demonstrations that roiled the former British colony in 2014 had been recalled to help deal with protests that have plunged the financial hub into crisis.
Former deputy police commissioner Alan Lau Yip Shing has been appointed to help handle large-scale public order events and steer operations, including activities to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct 1, the government said in a statement.
Reuters reported late on Thursday, citing sources, that Mr Lau had been recalled, in a move that suggests the government lacks confidence in the capacity of the current police leadership to manage the response to protests.
Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is embroiled in its worst political crisis for decades after two months of increasingly violent protests that have posed one of the gravest populist challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he took office in 2012.
"To maintain the smooth process of the departure procedures of passengers and the terminal operation, only departure passengers with an air ticket or boarding pass for the next 24 hours and a valid travel document, or airport staff with identity proofs, will be allowed to enter to the check-in aisles at Terminal 1," the Airport Authority said in a statement.
What started as an angry response to a now-suspended extradition Bill has grown to include demands for greater democracy, the resignation of Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, and even keeping mainland Chinese tourists out of the city.
The extradition Bill would have allowed defendants to be sent to the mainland for trial.
The Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong said on Thursday that it condemned the escalating violence and hoped the city regained peace and order as soon as possible.
Signed by 17 of the city's big property developers including Henderson Land Development, New World Development, and Sun Hung Kai Properties, it was the first official statement made by the group.
"The Hong Kong community has been suffering from the acts of violence perpetrated by a small group of individuals lately. Such acts have deviated from the original intent of the peaceful demonstrations and are bringing distress to the business community and the general public as a whole."
'WE'RE NOT RIOTERS'
There was no sign of a police presence at the airport early on Friday afternoon.
"It will be a peaceful protest as long as the police do not show up," one protester, Ms Charlotte Lam, 16, told Reuters. "We have made stickers, banners in over 16 languages, ranging from Japanese to Spanish. We want to spread our message internationally. We are not rioters, we are a group of Hong Kong people fighting for human rights and freedom."
The escalating violence has already prompted travel warnings from countries including the United States and Australia, although the airport demonstration did not draw complaints from some travellers.
"I don't really know what to think about the protest down there," said a woman from New Zealand who gave her name as Joyce. "Right now I just hope it won't delay my flight. But at the same time, as long as you're making a point without making too much trouble, it's OK I guess," she said.
A Taiwanese man named Daloy, 32, welcomed the demonstrators even though his flight was cancelled.
"I think this is more important, because today it's Hong Kong and tomorrow it will be Taiwan," he said. "We are also in a dangerous situation."
The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce said in a statement on Thursday that it supported the stance of Mr Zhang Xiaoming, one of the most senior Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong affairs.
Mr Zhang said during a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen this week that Hong Kong was facing its worst crisis since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. He said the central government must intervene if "turmoil" occurs in Hong Kong.