Hong Kong airport reopens but hundreds of flights cancelled, more protests planned

Hong Kong airport reopens but hundreds of flights cancelled, more protests planned

Hong Kong airport cancellation
Passengers look at an electric board to check their flights status in the departures area of Hong Kong's international airport on August 13, 2019, the day after the airport closed due to protests. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)  

HONG KONG: Hong Kong airport reopened on Tuesday (Aug 13) after a rally by thousands of protesters, but hundreds of flights were still listed as cancelled.

Early on Tuesday, passengers with luggage were being checked in at the departures hall and information boards showed several flights were boarding or about to depart.

But the woes at the airport remained far from over, with a massive backlog of flights to clear and activists calling for another protest there on Tuesday afternoon.

"The AA has noticed that there are calls online for public assembly in the airport this afternoon," the airport authority said in a statement. "The AA will work closely with its business partners with a view to gradually resuming normal airport operations as soon as possible."

It added that its car parks are full and the frequency of the Airport Express Line will be "adjusted", encouraging passengers to use public transport.

READ: Violence will push Hong Kong down 'path of no return': Carrie Lam

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said on its website it had cancelled more than 200 flights into and out of the airport on Tuesday and that it would only operate a limited number of flights for connecting passengers.

In an advisory posted on its website at 6am, Cathay urged customers to "postpone non-essential travel" from Hong Kong. 

Shares in Cathay, which fell to a 10-year-low on Monday, continued their slide on Tuesday and were down more than 4.5% in morning trading.

The company is caught in crosswinds between Beijing and anti-government groups in Hong Kong after the Chinese civil aviation regulator demanded it suspend personnel who engaged in or supported the protests from staffing flights into its airspace.

The closure of the airport added to that pressure. A Reuters reporter saw more than 100 travellers queuing up at Cathay's ticketing counter early on Tuesday.

READ: Hong Kong airport cancels all flights on Monday due to protests

READ: Scoot flight from Singapore to Hong Kong forced to turn back; SIA flight diverted due to airport protests

Passengers queue as the airport reopened a day after flights were halted due to a protest, at Hong
Passengers queue as the Hong Kong airport reopened on Aug 13, 2019, a day after flights were halted due to a protest. (Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato)

Kate Flannery, an Australian traveller heading for Paris, said the handling of the protests appeared chaotic on Monday night.

"The airport authority didn't deal with the situation," she said. "I felt like I was walking around and nobody gave us information."

A Cathay customer officer at the airport, who declined to provide his name, said nearly all the airline's flights were full.

"It is possible that the airport authority will cancel more flights as they need to control the air traffic movements at the Hong Kong International Airport," he said. 

The abrupt shutdown came after thousands of black-clad demonstrators flooded the airport for a peaceful rally.

Although other rallies had been held there over the previous three days, Monday's was the first to significantly affect passengers.

More than 250 flights on Monday were cancelled at the world's eighth-busiest airport, which handles around 200,000 passengers a day.

Several flights to and from Singapore were affected, with a Scoot flight to Hong Kong forced to return to Singapore and a Singapore Airlines flight diverted to Guangzhou. 

The city's transport chief Frank Chan said on Monday that Hong Kong would pay a "heavy price" for the airport's closure.

Passengers react as they look at the flight information board as the airport reopened a day after f
Passengers looking at the flight information board at Hong Kong International Airport on Aug 13, 2019, a day after flights were halted due to a protest. (Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato)

It was a dramatic escalation of a 10-week crisis that has been the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of Hong Kong since the 1997 British handover.

The protests have infuriated Beijing, which described some of the violent demonstrations as "terrorism".

"AN EYE FOR AN EYE"

On Tuesday morning, only a handful of protesters remained in the airport.

It was unclear whether protesters, who have no clear leadership and organise via social media, would return to the airport in big numbers on Tuesday.

Nor was it clear whether authorities would allow them to protest.

Many of the posters and artwork they had hung throughout the facility during the hours-long rally had been taken down, but graffiti - some reading "an eye for an eye" - could still be seen in several places.

The protesters adopted the slogan after a woman suffered a serious facial injury that reportedly caused her to lose the vision in one eye at a demonstration that turned violent on Sunday night.

Hong Kong protesters
Protesters wear eyepatches during a protest at the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport. (Photo: AP/Vincent Thian)

The demonstrators have accused police of causing the injury by firing a bean-bag round, and cite the case as evidence of what they say has been an excessive and disproportionate response by police to their protests.

The protests began in opposition to a Bill that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland, but quickly evolved into a broader bid to reverse a slide of rights and freedoms in the southern Chinese city.

READ: Hong Kong police admit 'disguising' themselves in protests

READ: Cathay Pacific warns it could fire staff for supporting 'illegal protests'

Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, suspended plans for the extradition Bill.

But Lam has consistently ruled out meeting any of the protesters' other demands, which include the right to choose their next leader and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

Anti-extradition bill protesters rest during a mass demonstration after a woman was shot in the eye
Anti-extradition Bill protesters rest during a mass demonstration at the Hong Kong International Airport on Aug 12, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

The demonstrations have become increasingly violent from both sides, with police using tear gas and rubber bullets protesters sometimes hurling bricks and bottles.

Over the weekend police fired tear gas into subway stations and crowded shopping streets in confrontations with protesters at nearly a dozen locations across the city.

Protesters responded by hurling bricks and spraying riot police with fire extinguishers and water hoses.

Demonstrators were also enraged at police apparently dressing in the black T-shirts worn by the anti-government movement to infiltrate the rallies and make surprise arrests.

Officials said 45 people were hurt in the clashes.

Hong Kong airport Graphic
Map on the main protest areas in Hong Kong on Aug 10-12, cancellation of flights on Aug 12. (AFP/Janis LATVELS/Laurence CHU)

"It is becoming more and more dangerous, but if we don't still come out at this point, our future will become more frightening, and we will lose our freedoms," a 22-year-old protester at the airport told AFP on Monday.

CHINA WARNS OF "TERRORISM"

The movement has infuriated Beijing, where authorities on Monday slammed violent protesters who threw petrol bombs at police officers, linking them to "terrorism".

"Hong Kong's radical demonstrators have repeatedly used extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers, which already constitutes a serious violent crime, and also shows the first signs of terrorism emerging," said Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council.

"This wantonly tramples on Hong Kong's rule of law and social order."

READ: China warns Hong Kong protesters: 'Those who play with fire will perish by it'

READ: China warns Hong Kong protesters with slick military video

Hours later, two state media outlets ran videos showing armoured personnel and troop carriers purportedly driving to Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.

And a commentary early Tuesday on China's official Xinhua news agency spoke of "black-clad mobsters" and said Hong Kong's future is at a "critical juncture".

A senior official in the administration of US President Donald Trump has urged "all sides" to avoid violence in Hong Kong.

"Societies are best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely and peacefully expressed," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on China "to be very careful and very respectful in how it deals with people who have legitimate concerns in Hong Kong".

Source: Agencies/de/ad/hs/hm

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