Hong Kong protesters block airport as mass rallies paralyse the city

Pro-democracy protesters obstructed access to Hong Kong’s international airport yesterday as police arrested dozens of people and used water cannon and tear gas against activists lobbing petrol bombs and bricks.

The protesters snarled up road and rail links, erected barriers and flooded stations en route to the airport, while shouting: “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom!”

Others drove cars slowly to hinder traffic. Some built barricades outside the airport, dispersing when riot police charged and aggressively pinned people down to make arrests.

The plan was to recreate the mass chaos last seen in mid-August when a five-day occupation of the airport – one of the world’s busiest transport hubs – led to hundreds of flight cancellations.

Scenes briefly turned violent when protesters assaulted two men from mainland China and clashed with riot police.

“The airport is extremely important to the city’s economy and tourism,” said Toby Pun (23). “I hope this will force the government to respond.”

Although some flights were cancelled, most still took off as scheduled yesterday, the planes roaring above protesters’ heads. The unrest came just a day after some of the city’s most intense clashes this summer. Activists marched in the rain through several neighbourhoods before hurling Molotov cocktails and projectiles at government offices and police headquarters.

Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon laced with blue dye to help identify, and possibly arrest, protesters later.

By nightfall, officers shot two live rounds into the sky as warnings, while protesters lit a strip of stadium seats on fire, setting ablaze a main road and sending black smoke billowing around brightly lit skyscrapers.

Protests began in early June against an extradition proposal that would have sent people to face trial in mainland China, where Communist Party influence contributes to a 99.9pc conviction rate.

That proposed law was suspended but the activists’ demands have since expanded to include greater political accountability and wider democratic freedoms, plunging Hong Kong into its worst political crisis in decades.

Police stood guard at the airport yesterday, placing heavy water barriers around entrances and allowing only passengers through. Later, several teams were spotted at ferry piers and train stations in an effort to catch retreating protesters.

The nearly 1,000 arrests are starting to weigh on protesters, with many encouraging each other to flee quickly when police arrive to prevent being cuffed themselves. Closures of the city’s subway stations have also impeded protesters’ mobility.

Yesterday, the subway operator shut the airport express line and a number of bus links were down, forcing demonstrators, passengers, flight crew, and journalists to walk 5km to the airport from the nearest open subway.

“If the flight is delayed, then we will stay at the airport and support the protesters,” said Peter, a Hong Konger who left early and walked nearly an hour to get to the airport.

Despite escalating violence and disruption to daily life in Hong Kong, known for being an efficient global business centre, the youth-driven movement has continued to draw wide public support.

“I’ve attended most protests since June,” said Miu (58). “Those teenagers – they have been really kind. One day when police threw lots of tear gas, a really young protester, only 20, took off her gas mask and gave it to me.”

But that may not remain the case with increasing disruptions to regular life and school due to start this week, which could keep activists – many of whom are students – off the streets. To prevent that, a citywide strike has been called as well as a boycott on the first few days of university and secondary school classes.

Calls are also growing for the UK to put pressure on Beijing to uphold the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which kicked in when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and said the Communist system would not be practised in the territory for at least 50 years. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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