Teargas and petrol bombs: Hong Kong reeling from night of violence

On Sunday, protesters headed to block the airport again

Hong Kong was reeling on Sunday after the worst clashes to rock the city in three months of anti-government protests, as activists again attempted to shut the airport.

Tens of thousands of people defied the authorities to march through the streets of the financial hub in an unsanctioned rally on Saturday, which rapidly descended into violence that stretched into the early hours.

On Sunday, more than a dozen flights were cancelled as thousands of pro-democracy activists blocked routes to the airport. The departure hall was packed with a backlog of passengers who had struggled to make it to the terminals.

Earlier, operators of the Airport Express train suspended services after the station was besieged, while black-clad protesters – hiding from CCTV cameras under umbrellas – built barricades at the bus terminus and attempted to stop traffic on the main road leading to it.

Stranded travellers were forced to abandon their lifts and drag their luggage along the airport road.

“It’s out of our control,” said Andy Tang, 26, returning to Australia from a week’s holiday in Hong Kong. “So there’s no point getting annoyed about it.”

Outside one terminal at the international hub, protesters set off fire extinguishers, piled luggage trolleys into makeshift road barricades and smashed surveillance cameras. Hong Kong police said they were poised to launch a “dispersal operation”, and in a Facebook post warned protesters to leave the airport area immediately.

epa07809229 A plane flies overhead as protesters block a road leading to the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, 01 September 2019. Anti-government protesters are planning to disrupt all travel routes to Hong Kong airport on 01 and 02 September. Hong Kong has been gripped by mass protests since June over a now-suspended extradition bill, which has since morphed into a wider anti-government movement. EPA/JEROME FAVRE EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE
A plane flies overhead as protesters block a road leading to the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong. EPA

The airport is covered by an injunction banning protesters from entering – imposed after a shutdown last month that ended in ugly clashes – but protesters have routinely ignored legal moves to ban their actions.

The airport protest came a day after police denied protesters permission to march on Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s rejection of universal suffrage for Hong Kong in 2014.

As they have all summer, protesters took to the streets anyway. Then, groups of hardcore demonstrators hurled petrol bombs at government buildings and police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon laced with chemical dye before making mass arrests in the city’s underground metro stations.

Demonstrators stand in a cloud of tear gas on Hennessy Road during a protest in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, China, on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters defied a police ban and marched peacefully through the city streets after several top opposition figures including Joshua Wong were arrested on Friday. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg
Demonstrators stand in a cloud of tear gas on Hennessy Road during a protest in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, China. Bloomberg

Protesters provoked and obstructed police repeatedly but generally retreated once riot officers moved in, avoiding some of the direct clashes that characterised earlier protests.

“Peaceful protest doesn’t work,” said a demonstrator, 22, who identified himself as Stone. As protesters streamed into a nearby metro, graffiti on a pillar in the station read: “We shall never surrender.”

Video footage captured by local media showed elite police charging a crowd cowering in a train carriage – with one man, drenched in pepper spray, crying in anguish on his knees as he tried to protect his female friend.

“I’m really, really tired. I think many Hong Kong people had a sleepless night,” said student protester May, 18.

“I almost couldn’t manage to get up, but I’m determined to go today.”

Anger at police tactics swirled across social media.

Police said officers fired two warning shots into the sky ­after being attacked by a group of “violent protesters who attempted once to snatch police pistols”.

“With such escalating violence and progressively lethal weapons of protesters, the safety of police officers and other members of the public is seriously threatened,” police said.

The hospital authority said on Sunday that 31 people were admitted with injuries after the clashes, including five who remain in a serious condition.

City sanitation workers began clearing debris and removing graffiti after the night of pitched battles.

China’s state news agency Xinhua posted a video on Twitter late on Saturday of armed Chinese riot police holding “anti-riot drills in Shenzhen”, a city that borders Hong Kong.

Beijing has also unleashed its economic muscle in an attempt to muzzle the movement, which it views as a direct challenge to its rule.

Police on Friday rounded up several high profile pro-democracy activists and politicians.

They denied the sweep was timed specifically to weaken the weekend’s protests.

More than 900 people have been arrested since June.

Updated: September 1, 2019 06:26 PM

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