Protesters clashed with Hong Kong police in the working-class district of Sham Shui Po last night in the latest anti-government demonstration as flights at Hong Kong International Airport resumed after activists had forced the airport to cancel hundreds of flights two days in a row.
Police fired more than a dozen rounds of tear gas to clear protesters who had massed near the Sham Shui Po police station to burn joss paper and dazzle the station using laser pointers in what organisers called a "laser-light vigil (and) joss paper burning" to mark the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Riot police also mounted a dispersal operation after the 100-plus protesters refused to move on despite repeated warnings.
Street protests against a Bill that would allow for extraditions to mainland China have in recent months morphed into a broader movement seeking greater democratic freedom, but have also become more violent, triggering increasingly harsh criticism from China.
China condemned violent clashes at the airport on Tuesday and the detaining of a Chinese national by the protesters, thousands of whom had massed inside the airport terminal.
China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing called the behaviour at the airport no different from terrorism, and said it must be severely punished.
Some protesters took to social media and instant messaging platforms after Tuesday's fracas to apologise for the violence at the airport. They said the airport had become their last hope of peaceful demonstration and that some people had become "easily agitated after months of prolonged resistance".
In a statement that was circulated online, protesters offered their "deepest apologies" to affected passengers, but said they hoped the Hong Kong people will not forget "the calls for freedom and democracy".
At the airport, the authorities sealed a number of entrances to the terminal yesterday, while security officers were deployed at the Airport Express train station linking the terminals to the city to ensure that only travellers with confirmed bookings could enter the departure hall.
The airport also obtained a court order that would empower law enforcement to restrain anyone "unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering" with airport operations.
Police said they had arrested five people for unlawful assembly at the airport on Tuesday night, after protesters clashed with ground officers. Two were also charged with assaulting a police officer and possessing offensive weapons as riot police sought to clear the terminal.
Police had mounted an operation to extract a man who had been detained and hurt by protesters, who refused to let paramedics take him away.
Protesters had suspected him of being an undercover officer, but he was later confirmed to be a reporter for China's Global Times tabloid. They had earlier detained another man from the mainland using similar reasons.
The ensuing melee saw a police officer being encircled by protesters, who took his baton and pepper spray, and he had to resort to pulling out his gun to protect himself, Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Mak Chin-Ho said at a news conference.
Mr Mak said any protesters who persisted in trying to block airport operations would be in contempt of court and the police would fully enforce the injunction order "as well as access control measures" at the airport.
Cathay Pacific Airways yesterday slammed the unprecedented airport disruptions for damaging the global reputation of Hong Kong, one of the busiest air hubs in Asia.
The Hong Kong carrier said the disruptions on Monday and Tuesday resulted in more than 270 flights being cancelled and affected more than 55,000 passengers. The airline has fired two pilots, including one who had been charged with rioting, after it had earlier warned that it could fire staff who supported the "illegal protests".
Hong Kong leaders yesterday condemned the airport violence, saying that the acts went beyond what could be considered peaceful protests.
At an inter-department news conference, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan apologised to affected passengers, and appealed to protesters to comply with the court order.
The US State Department yes-terday issued a travel advisory for Hong Kong, urging "increased caution in Hong Kong due to civil unrest".