HONG KONG (REUTERS, AFP) - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday (Aug 13) that "lawbreaking activities in the name of freedom" were damaging the rule of law and that the Asian financial hub's recovery from anti-government protests could take a long time.
"Violence, no matter if it's using violence or condoning violence, will push Hong Kong down a path of no return, will plunge Hong Kong society into a very worrying and dangerous situation," Mrs Lam said during a press conference.
"The situation in Hong Kong in the past week has made me very worried that we have reached this dangerous situation," she added.
Her comments came after China said the anti-government protests that swept the city over the past two months had begun to show "sprouts of terrorism".
Mrs Lam faced combative questioning from reporters who repeatedly interrupted her as she defended the conduct of the city's police after a weekend of often violent confrontations between them and protesters.
She said police faced "extremely difficult circumstances" and were bound by "rigid and stringent guidelines on the appropriate use of force".
And she dodged a question on whether she had the power to end the crisis by granting one of the key demands of the protesters: to fully withdraw a now-suspended Bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.
Pressed on whether her hands were tied by Beijing on the issue, she demurred, insisting the question had been answered in the past. "I again ask everyone to put aside your differences and calm down."
"Take a minute to think, look at our city, our home; do you all really want to see it pushed into an abyss?" Mrs Lam added, appearing on the verge of tears.
China on Monday said protests in the Asian financial hub, which started as opposition to a now suspended extradition Bill but expanded into wider calls for democracy, had reached a "critical juncture".
"Protesters have been frequently using extremely dangerous tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging," said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office spokesman Yang Guang in Beijing.
Some Hong Kong legal experts say the official description of terrorism could lead to the use of anti-terror laws.
Protesters say police have used excessive force, firing tear gas and beanbag pellets at close range, and are calling for an independent inquiry into the crisis.
Operations resumed at Hong Kong airport early on Tuesday morning, airport authorities said, but more than 200 flights have been cancelled after protests shut down the travel hub on Monday.
Despite the airport reopening, Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled over 200 flights to and out of the airport on Tuesday, according to its website.
The airport, one of the world's busiest, blamed demonstrators for halting flights on Monday, but the exact trigger for the closure was not clear as protesters occupying the arrivals hall for the past five days have been peaceful.
Most protesters had left the airport shortly after midnight, with about 50 protesters still there on Tuesday morning.
"Hong Kong International Airport will implement flight rescheduling today with flight movements expected to be affected," said a notice published on the Hong Kong International Airport's official mobile app on Tuesday.