HONG KONG: Riot police fanned out across Hong Kong on Saturday (Sep 7) and thwarted plans by protesters to target the airport, days after the city's leader made a surprise concession which was rejected by the movement as too little, too late.
Protesters had planned to block one of the world's busiest airports a day after a night of violence in which police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up crowds, the latest clashes in 14 weeks of unrest in the Chinese-ruled city.
Hundreds of demonstrators, many masked and dressed in black, attacked metro stations on Kowloon peninsula on Friday night, targeted because of televised scenes of police beating protesters on a metro train on Aug 31 as they cowered on the floor.
Activists tore down signs, broke turnstiles, set fires on the street and daubed graffiti on the walls on Friday.
"The behaviour was outrageous," the government said in a statement.
Online messaging forums used by the largely leaderless movement had called for protesters to "stress test" the airport on Saturday afternoon, filling up with suggestions for how to disrupt the road and rail links leading to the terminals.
But a large deployment of police at key bus, ferry and rail terminals across the city appeared to deter protesters from arriving en masse.
Tao Tsz Fung, 26, managed to get through the security checks and made it to the airport, along with a few dozen more protesters hanging around outside the terminal.
"There are just too many police around," he told AFP. "But we'll be out again tomorrow."
Some train and bus services to the airport were running a more restricted service while police performed multiple searches, largely against young people.
"On the way to the airport, our bus stopped for some sort of searching. The police came into the bus and checked everyone," James Reis, a passenger who arrived nine hours ahead of his flight home to Portugal, told AFP.
Chek Lap Kok airport was built in the dying days of British rule on reclaimed land around a tiny island and is reached by a series of bridges.
The measures are aimed at avoiding the chaos of last weekend, when protesters blocked airport approach roads, threw debris on the train track and trashed the MTR subway station in the nearby new town of Tung Chung in running clashes with police.
Outside the airport on Saturday, there were shouting matches between police and people who wanted to pick up arriving family members but were told to go away.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. We have our 80-year-old relative coming off the flight. How will she get home without our help?” said Donny, only giving his first name. “These police don’t listen to anything we have to say. We are normal people.”
Protesters had previously occupied the airport's arrival hall last month, halting and delaying flights, amid a series of clashes with police.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced concessions this week to try to end the protests, including formally scrapping a hugely unpopular extradition Bill, but many said they were too little, too late.
The Bill would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, despite Hong Kong having an independent judiciary dating back to British colonial rule.
But the demonstrations, which began in June, have long since broadened into calls for more democracy and many protesters have pledged to fight on.
Demonstrations have at times paralysed parts of the city, a major Asian financial hub, amid running street battles between protesters and police who have responded with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon. Violent arrests of protesters have drawn international attention.
READ: Carrie Lam says measures announced this week a 'first step' as Hong Kong braces for more protests
READ: Decision to withdraw extradition Bill was by Hong Kong government, with Beijing's support: Carrie Lam
At a peaceful rally on Friday night in the city's commercial district, many protesters said they planned to continue hitting the streets.
"It's too late now. In these three months, a lot of people have sacrificed themselves and been arrested," said a retiree who gave his surname as Cheng, bursting into tears as he spoke.
Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland. Many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is eroding that autonomy.
China denies the accusation of meddling and says Hong Kong is its internal affair. It has denounced the protests, warning of the damage to the economy and the possible use of force to quell the unrest.
In addition to calling for a withdrawal of the extradition bill and the release of those arrested for violence, protesters want an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, retraction of the word "riot" to describe rallies and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.
The protests have presented Chinese President Xi Jinping with his greatest popular challenge since he came to power in 2012.