Hong Kong protests shut down airport in biggest disruption yet

Some 200 flights grounded; protest organisers vow to hold large sit-in today

Protesters swarming the departure hall of Hong Kong airport yesterday, the fifth continuous day that they have occupied the facility. PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters swarming the departure hall of Hong Kong airport yesterday, the fifth continuous day that they have occupied the facility. PHOTO: REUTERS

Hong Kong was forced to shut down its airport yesterday, grounding around 200 flights and affecting many others worldwide, after thousands of protesters swarmed the main terminal building in the biggest disruption yet to the city's economy since demonstrations escalated in June.

The airport authorities said flights could resume early today depending on recovery operations after protester numbers dwindled in the evening. They also urged passengers to check that their flights were confirmed before heading to the airport. But protest organisers have vowed to hold a large-scale "eye for an eye" sit-in at the airport this afternoon to protest against the escalation of force by police following another weekend of violent demonstrations across Hong Kong. This would be the fifth continuous day that protesters have occupied the airport.

The flights affected yesterday included six from Singapore to Hong Kong - three by Cathay Pacific, two by Singapore Airlines (SIA) and one by Scoot, said Changi Airport Group.

Another Scoot flight - TR980 - which left Singapore with 122 passengers, made a U-turn about 30 minutes before it was scheduled to land in Hong Kong at 6.05pm. It arrived back in Singapore at around 9.10pm. SIA Flight SQ872, which took off from Changi Airport at 2.30pm, was diverted to Guangzhou airport and landed at 6.42pm. The plane then departed Guangzhou after 8pm and landed at Changi just before midnight.

The clashes on Sunday saw police fire tear gas inside an MTR station for the first time, while videos circulated online of riot police firing pepper balls at close range against protesters. Anti-government anger also swelled after a woman was allegedly hit in the eye by a police beanbag round.

China directed strong language against violent protesters yesterday, saying that they had repeatedly attacked police officers with "extremely dangerous tools".

Protesters "have already committed serious crimes and have begun to show signs of terrorism", said Mr Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Cabinet, who cited petrol bomb attacks on three police stations on Sunday.

Mr Yang said Hong Kong has "reached a critical juncture" after 10 straight weeks of protests, and stressed that Beijing supported the Hong Kong police force's "decisive enforcement (and) strict administration of justice".

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Tang Ping-keung said at a briefing yesterday that officers continue to classify the demonstrations as the actions of "violent rioters at this stage", but added that radical demonstrators had over the weekend stepped up their use of deadly tools. Police also said officers "use the minimum level of force to achieve the operational objective", and that 149 people have been arrested since last Friday.

They also admitted that undercover officers have been used in recent operations, and that they are still looking into Sunday's incident where a young female protester suffered a serious facial injury.


But many remained dissatisfied with what they see as excessive police tactics. About 300 people gathered outside the police headquarters in Wan Chai last night, although the crowd largely dispersed after organisers presented a police representative with a letter of complaint about the tactics used.

Pro-democracy group Civil Human Rights Front is calling for another mass rally on Sunday as other protesters vow to continue their daily airport sit-in.

The Hong Kong stock market closed at a seven-month low yesterday in the aftermath of the fresh chaos that hit the financial hub.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2019, with the headline 'Hong Kong protests shut down airport in biggest disruption yet'. Subscribe