Hong Kong gears up for fresh protests as activists target airport

Policemen on duty at Hong Kong's international airport, on Aug 14, 2019.
Policemen on duty at Hong Kong's international airport, on Aug 14, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong braced on Friday (Aug 23) for further demonstrations and a "stress test" of the city's international airport at the weekend, as nearly three months of anti-government protests showed no sign of abating.

Multiple protests are planned for Friday, including a march by accountants to government headquarters and a "Baltic Chain" event where protesters will join hands across different districts in the Chinese territory.

In 1989, an estimated two million people joined arms across three Baltic states in a protest against Soviet Union rule which became known as the Baltic Way or Baltic Chain.

"The Baltic Way brought the world’s attention to their cause and inspired following generations," the rally organisers said in a statement. "We plead that you will not look away at this crucial time. Stand with Hong Kong."

The protests, which escalated in June over a now-suspended Bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial, have grown into wider calls for political freedom.

The protests, which have drawn millions of Hong Kong residents onto the streets, have plunged the Asian financial hub into its deepest crisis since its handover to Beijing in 1997 and pose one of the biggest challenges to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.

The unrest has been fuelled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula adopted after Hong Kong's return to China but not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest.

Anti-government protesters have said they also plan to disrupt transport to the city's airport at the weekend.

"Go to the airport by different means, including MTR, airport bus, taxi, bike and private car to increase pressure on airport transport," they wrote online.

Hong Kong's international airport, one of the world's busiest, was forced to close temporarily last week and hundreds of flights were cancelled or rescheduled when protesters and police clashed.

The Airport Authority published a half-page advertisement in major newspapers on Friday urging young people to "love Hong Kong" and said it opposed acts that "blocked and interfered with the operation of the airport".

It said it would continue to work to maintain smooth operations.

Hong Kong’s High Court on Friday extended an order restricting protesters at the city’s international airport.

The order requires public demonstrations have the permission of authorities and is aimed at banning "those who want to deliberately obstruct or interfere with the normal use of the airport", said the court.

 
 
 

The protests are already taking a toll on the city's economy and tourism, with the special administrative region on the cusp of its first recession in a decade.

Corporates including the big banks and property developers have called for a restoration of law and order while exhibitors are seeing widespread cancellations of events.

In the most recent case, international jewellers have sought the rescheduling of a huge trade fair with up to 40 per cent of exhibitors threatening to pull out.

Demonstrators on Friday and over the weekend are reiterating calls for the government to address their five demands: withdraw the extradition Bill, an independent inquiry into the protests and perceived police brutality, a halt to descriptions of the protests as "rioting", a waiver of charges against those arrested, and resumption of political reform.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Consulate in Hong Kong said on Friday it has suspended travel to mainland China for local staff, just days after an employee of the city’s British Consulate was confirmed to have been detained in China.

China’s foreign ministry confirmed on Wednesday that Simon Cheng, an employee of the British mission, had been detained in the border city of Shenzhen neighbouring Hong Kong.

Beijing has accused Britain and other Western countries of meddling in its affairs in Hong Kong.

Canada’s latest travel advisory on Thursday warned that increased screening of travellers’ digital devices had been reported at border crossings between mainland China and Hong Kong.