HONG KONG - Over a thousand protesters staged a sit-in on Friday (July 26) at Hong Kong airport, one of Asia's busiest, as more countries, including Singapore, issued travel advisories for the city.
The demonstration came as Hong Kong's government apologised for the police handling of an attack on protesters and commuters last weekend by thugs said to be linked to triads at a train station in the northern district of Yuen Long.
In a bid to find new ways to spread their opposition to a contentious extradition Bill, the demonstrators on Friday converged at the Terminal 1 arrival hall of the airport in Lantau, holding up signs with protest slogans to reach foreigners visiting the city.
The black-clad protesters then sat on the ground of the airport's group pick-up area, with a small number shouting slogans such as “there’s only a tyranny, no rioters” and “Hong Kong ga yau”, or “come on, Hong Kong” in Cantonese.
Airport authorities said operations would not be affected, but advised passengers on its website to arrive early for their flights. Extra security and staff were also deployed to guide the arriving passengers.
Airport areas where loitering was not allowed had been marked out with yellow tape, while some benches were removed to provide more space.
Flight attendants and other aviation industry workers also participated in the protest. The Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants' Union in a Facebook post on Thursday had called on its members to participate, reminding them to watch out for one another.
Two stewardesses who joined the protest said they wanted to support the movement in any way possible, arriving at the airport before their flight with their luggage and uniforms to change into later.
“As a Hong Konger, we can't stand seeing our city this way so we need to stand up for Hong Kong. There needs to be a change so that Hong Kong has a future,” said the flight attendant who wanted to be known only as Hannah.
Fliers designed to look like tourist pamphlets in various languages - including English, simplified Chinese and Korean - were given out to arriving passengers at the airport.
One of them showed a map listing areas of the city that have since turned into protest hotspots, including the Central Government Office, Tamar Park and Mongkok. "Here are some sites that best represent Hong Kong, where you can experience the determination of the anti-extradition Bill movement," it read.
Some protesters were seen using a luggage trolley to push a signboard aimed at Spanish-speaking tourists.
Ms Bobo Cheung, 33, a stewardess with a European airline, said she had been spurred to join the protest after the violent incident last Sunday in Yuen Long which left 45 people injured after being assaulted by a group of armed men.
“Over the past few days, passengers keep asking me what’s going on in Yuen Long because they can’t understand how people of the same city would beat each other up," Ms Cheung said.
"So by coming here, we want to show the world that Hong Kongers are really a peaceful people, and we want to fight for what is important to us: the rule of law. It’s not just for ourselves but also for the future generations," she added.
Most of Friday's action took place at the middle of the airport. But by afternoon, some of the crowd - which included curious onlookers - had spilled over to an adjacent arrivals area, where tour groups usually gather while waiting to be picked up.
More were expected to join the protests after office hours.
Over at Beijing's liaison office in the city, police stood guard and large water barriers were placed outside the complex as part of security measures following a clash between protesters and police last Sunday, RTHK reported.
Recent mass rallies have started out peacefully but escalated into violence later at night after smaller groups of protesters stay behind to clash with the police.
A rally on Sunday saw protesters marching past the designated end point in Wanchai, heading west of Hong Kong Island towards Sai Ying Pun, where they vandalised Beijing's liaison office. Riot police later fired 55 rounds of tear gas, along with rubber bullets and foam rounds to disperse protesters.
As the street battle raged, about 30km away in the rural Yuen Long district, mobs dressed in white and armed with sticks and batons attacked passers-by at the metro station.
Police have since arrested 12, some of whom have gang affiliations.
Hong Kong's police have also cited last weekend's violence as a reason for their objection to a rally in Yuen Long planned for Saturday.
The government on Friday, apologised for the attack, with the city's number two official, Mr Matthew Cheung, saying a review was underway to prevent a repeat of the bloody incident.
The police have been criticised for taking more than half an hour to respond to calls for help while some victims have questioned why some of the suspects were not arrested that night.
The chairman of a rural committee representing villagers in Yuen Long has also warned protesters not to storm villages and damage ancestral halls.
"We won't make trouble, but we won't walk away from trouble," said Mr Ching Chan-ming, adding that villagers will protect their homes if provoked.
Organiser Max Chung told The Straits Times that he would be appealing against the decision on Friday, but is not confident of a positive outcome.
Online, anti-government protesters are suggesting creative alternatives to a mass gathering in Yuen Long to circumvent police rules. These range from a mass shopping day to a "memorial service" for former Chinese premier Li Peng, who died on Monday.
In an advisory issued in the wee hours of Friday, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry encouraged travellers to avoid the Hong Kong airport from 1pm on Friday, as well as Yuen Long on Saturday.
"Protests which are meant to be peaceful may still have the potential to turn violent with little or no notice," the ministry said.
Singapore joins several other countries, including Canada, Japan and South Korea, which have issued such advisories, while Ireland is the first country to issue a travel warning for Hong Kong.