Hong Kong, Aug 13 (IANS) Anti-government protesters severely disrupted air travel for a second straight day, forcing Hong Kong International Airport to suspend check-in services for all departing flights on Tuesday.
The airport, which is one of the world’s busiest, has been the site of daily protests since Friday.
Authorities announced at 5 p.m. (local time) on Tuesday that all remaining flights scheduled to depart from the city’s international airport were suspended after protesters occupied one of the airport’s terminals for a second day.
“Terminal operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today,” Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said in a statement.
“All check-in service for departure flights has been suspended since 4.30 (p.m.) hrs. Other departure and arrival flights for the rest of the day will continue to operate, and airlines will provide arrangements for passengers who have not completed the departure process,” the statement added, advising public to stay away from the airport.
Some airlines, including flagship airline Cathay Pacific, cancelled dozens of flights on Tuesday before the latest closures were announced. Airport authorities cancelled hundreds of flights on Monday evening for the same reason.
Scenes of long lines and crowds were seen on Tuesday at the airport, one of the world’s busiest, which struggled to recover from the protests a day earlier when demonstrators sought to draw attention to what they consider police brutality while trying to disperse protests in the city.
In a sign of fraying tempers among the travelling public on Tuesday, a woman was seen trying to break through protesters’ lines towards the departure gate of Terminal 1, shouting “I want to go home”. Her passage was blocked by protesters, before airport staff stepped in, the South China Morning Post reported.
Videos on social media showed passengers struggling to get through demonstrators, who were sitting inside blocking departures. Protesters were seen using luggage trolleys to build barriers and travellers looking distressed and angered at the disruption.
The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, stood her ground on Tuesday, once again defending the police and criticizing the protesters who, according to her, “will push Hong Kong down a path of no return” and “plunge Hong Kong society into a very worrying and dangerous situation.”
Lam defended the actions of police officers, who she said have “a code of practice” and follow “rigid and stringent guidelines.”
With regard to accusations by protesters that the police fired non-lethal ammunition inside underground subway stations and allegedly hit a woman in the eye, Lam hoped the case would be reported to the police, which she described as “the pillar of the rule of law in Hong Kong”.
Meanwhile, China’s civil aviation authority said Tuesday that it will increase transfer capacity at airports on the Pearl River delta (which includes cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai) to cope with the disruption of flights between China and Hong Kong.
This development comes after the city witnessed the 10th consecutive weekend of demonstrations sparked by the government’s contentious extradition bill that was later shelved by Lam after coming under intense pressure.
The extradition bill, which would have enabled fugitives to be transferred from Hong Kong to mainland China to stand trial under the latter’s opaque legal system, has morphed into a broader movement seeking to reverse a decline in freedoms in the ex-British colony.
However, violence between the police and demonstrators has been on the rise with the succession of protest marches.