Airport protest turns into unruly mess, complete with clashes, prisoner-taking

Police scuffle with pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong International Airport last night. Photo via AFP.
Police scuffle with pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong International Airport last night. Photo via AFP.

Flights were departing Hong Kong airport largely on schedule this morning after a disruption of the busy hub by activists yesterday descended into chaos last night, with protesters taking prisoners suspected of being spies and clashing with riot police, one of whom drew his gun after being assaulted.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled on Tuesday after pro-democracy demonstrators blockaded two terminals, the second consecutive day the airport has been targeted in the latest escalation of a 10-week political crisis that has gripped the international finance hub.

Protesters physically blocked travelers from accessing flights throughout the afternoon, before battling with riot police outside the terminal later that evening and turning on two people they accused of being spies or undercover police.

But by the early hours of Wednesday morning the vast majority of protesters had left the building and flights began taking off on a more regular basis. The airport’s website showed dozens of flights taking off overnight and listed hundreds more scheduled to depart throughout Wednesday, although many were delayed.

An AFP reporter at departures said check-in desks were operating normally and only a handful of protesters remained, most of them sleeping.

It was unclear whether the airport would be targeted again later today.

Scuffles broke out yesterday between protesters and travelers as desperate passengers pleaded in vain to be allowed onto flights.

But yesterday’s blockade led to far uglier scenes, as small groups of hardcore demonstrators turned on two men they accused of being spies, and clashed with riot police, with at least one officer drawing his service revolver after being surrounded by a mob of protesters who took his baton and began hitting him with it.

Police have recently disguised themselves as activists to make arrests, a move which has sent paranoia soaring among protesters.

The first man was held by activists for about two hours, during which time activists searched the man, finding an ID card with a name matching one found in a police officer database for Shenzhen, the Wall Street Journal reported.

They then bound the man and marched him around the terminal, chanting “Bear the consequences.” Reports from the scene said that the man had also been beaten.

The man was eventually taken away in an ambulance, with riot police briefly deploying pepper spray and batons to beat back protesters while they escorted the ambulance away, reportedly sparking running battles.

Another man, wearing a yellow journalist vest, was surrounded, zip-tied, and beaten by a small group who accused him of being a spy.

In a tweet, Hu Xijun, the editor of China’s state-controlled Global Times tabloid — which has vociferously condemned the protests — confirmed the man was a staffer working for the paper.

The man was also later driven away in an ambulance after protesters and volunteer medics carried him off amid reported resistance from the crowd.

The Wall Street Journal quoted one young protester at the scene as saying, “Everything is out of control right now.”

“The movement doesn’t have a leader; everyone does what they want.”

By early Wednesday, most protesters had left and the Airport Authority announced it had obtained an injunction to remove demonstrators, and to prevent future demonstrations at the airport outside of designated areas, although it was unclear how it would be enforced.

Police, meanwhile, released a statement today “condemn[ing] such radical and violent acts,” and saying that five people were arrested in last night’s clashes for alleged weapons possession, assaulting an officer, and illegal assembly.

The scenes emerging from the airport were shocking to many, even those who supported the movement. Pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung said on a radio program this morning that what happened at the airport last night was “unfortunate,” and that it was unacceptable to hurt others.

“Such actions deviated from the intent of Hongkongers taking back freedom and justice,” he said.

Protesters also released a statement of their own via the messaging app Telegram, apologizing to travelers who may have been affected.

“We regret if you have come across incidents where protesters may have appeared aggressive, and we apologize again for the inconvenience you might experience during our fight for freedom and democracy,” the letter reads, making no mention of the assault on the two men or clashes with police.

One user on the popular forum LIHKG who claimed to have been one of the airport protesters last night, said the scenes weren’t ideal, but were nonetheless justified.

“I know it doesn’t look good, but this is a protest method that costs us the least and benefits us the most without having to be bombarded by tear gas on the streets,” he said. “Honestly, if you want to make noise and hit the government where it hurts, sacrifices need to be made.”

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