HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s airport resumed operations on Wednesday (Aug 14), rescheduling hundreds of flights that had been disrupted over the past two days as protesters clashed with riot police in a deepening crisis in the Chinese-controlled city.
Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said it had obtained an interim injunction to stop people from “unlawfully and wilfully obstructing” the airport’s operations.
“Persons are also restrained from attending or participating in any demonstration or protest or public order event in the airport other than in the area designated by the airport authority,” it said in a statement on Wednesday morning.
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Protesters physically blocked travellers from accessing flights throughout Tuesday afternoon, before battling with police outside the terminal later that evening and turning on two people they accused of being spies or undercover police.
Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters and riot police moved in amid chaotic scenes, using pepper spray to keep people back. A policeman pulled out a gun at one point.
On Wednesday, police said a large group of protesters had “harassed and assaulted a visitor and a journalist”. Five people were detained, bringing the total number of people arrested since the protests began in June to more than 600, police said.
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About 30 protesters remained at the airport early on Wednesday while workers scrubbed it clean of blood and debris from overnight. Check-in counters reopened to queues of weary travellers who had waited overnight for their flights.
The airport’s website showed dozens of flights taking off overnight and listed hundreds more scheduled to depart throughout Wednesday, although many were delayed.
It was unclear whether the airport would again be targeted later on Wednesday.
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Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters, angered by a perceived erosion of freedoms, have plunged the Asian financial hub into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
The Hang Seng stock index fell to a seven-month low on Tuesday and embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the city had been pushed into a state of “panic and chaos”.
The protests began in opposition to a now-suspended Bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects for trial in mainland China but have swelled into wider calls for democracy.
READ: Violence will push Hong Kong down ‘path of no return’: Carrie Lam
China has condemned protesters for using dangerous tools to attack police, saying the clashes showed “signs of terrorism”. The protests represent one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong when it returned to China in 1997.
Activists turned their attention to the economically vital airport after weeks of huge peaceful rallies – and increasingly violent clashes between hardliners and police – failed to win any concessions from the city’s leaders or Beijing.
The United Nations human rights commissioner, Michele Bachelet, urged Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and investigate evidence that tear gas was fired at protesters in ways banned under international law.
China responded by saying her comments sent the wrong signal to what it described as violent criminal offenders.
READ: China hits back at UN rights boss over Hong Kong remarks
Forward Keys, a flight data company, said the recent wave of protests in Hong Kong, culminating in the closure of the airport, had deterred people from making plans to visit the city.
“The situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated substantially in the past eight weeks, and particularly so in the past four weeks,” said spokesman David Tarsh.
Long-haul bookings to Hong Kong between Jun 16 and Aug 9 were down 4.7 per cent from the same period last year, he said.