Update: After struggling to reschedule flights and get back to some semblance of normalcy in its scheduling, Hong Kong International Airport has canceled all departing flights for a second straight day.
The decision is bound to leave thousands of tourists stranded with few options to turn to.
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After false rumors about a police crackdown sent protesters scrambling away from Hong Kong International Airport on Monday, angry crowds returned with a vengeance on Tuesday, flooding the arrival hall and moving into the departures hall as they succeeded in paralyzing one of the busiest travel hubs in the region for the second straight day (though Tuesday marked the fifth consecutive day of protests at the airport).
Hundreds of protesters occupied the area around the airport’s check-in aisles beginning at around 2:30 pm local time before moving to completely cut off departure gates, while at least 1,000 remained in the arrivals section, the SCMP reports, in what appears to be a well orchestrated and systematic plan.
Breaking at #HongKongAirport – #antiEALB protesters stage sit-in in front of departure gates which are now blocked. No passengers can get through. More flights expected to be called off later on. #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/0x3tl9uxGa
— Phoebe Kong 江穎怡 (@phoebe_kongwy) August 13, 2019
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) August 13, 2019
The protests followed another weekend of violent clashes across the city. Aggrieved protesters communicated their outrage over police’s shooting of an unarmed woman in the eye with a nonlethal beanbag weapon.
Flights resumed early Tuesday morning after Monday’s total shutdown, but another 300 flights had been cancelled, and Hong Kong’s airport authority warned that its express trains to and from the airport would run more slowly at 15-minute intervals. According to the latest local media reports, the Airport has now suspended check-ins for some flights, though at least some flights will continue. Both North and South departure gates at Terminal 1 have been closed, per an airport authority spokeswoman.
Rail operator MTR Corporation warned those checking in for flights at Hong Kong or Kowloon stations to get there two hours early to fight through the heavy foot traffic. As of noon local time, the Airport Authority said there were fewer take offs and landings as it worked to reschedule flights, per SCMP.
To compensate, China’s national carrier, Air China, is adding additional flights between Beijing and Shenzen, the Chinese city across the border from Hong Kong where the Chinese military continues to build up an ominous presence of soldiers and tanks. Three of Air China’s Hong Kong-bound flights were diverted to Shenzen on Monday.
Anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong have entered their 10th week, and neither side is showing any willingness to back down, with Governor Carrie Lam – whose popularity has sunk to an all-time low according to the latest poll – warning on Tuesday that the protesters’ violence tactics were pushing Hong Kong into dangerous territory, and accused them of trying to “destroy the rule of law.”
“Violence, no matter if it’s using violence or condoning violence, will push Hong Kong down a path of no return, will plunge Hong Kong society into a very worrying and dangerous situation,”she said, while Beijing once again condemned protesters as ‘terrorists’. She added that police have been following guidelines about using minimum force when dealing with demonstrators.
During a press conference with local reporters on Tuesday, Lam at one point appeared to be on the verge of tears, and delivered a heart-felt appeal for calm, SCMP reports.
“Take a minute to think, look at our city, our home, do you all really want to see it pushed into an abyss?” Lam said.
Donning black outfits and face masks (the unofficial uniform of the protests), demonstrated “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom” as exasperated passengers scrambling to try and catch rescheduled and delayed flights. As many found their passage blocked, angry confrontations between travelers and protesters erupted. One woman was seen trying to break through a crowd of protesters at the northern departure gate of Terminal 1, shouting in near tears “I just want to go home!”
Foreign tour groups were perhaps the most inconvenienced: One Brazilian passenger said she had to pay a lot of money for a hotel room after her Shanghai flight was cancelled. “I know it is not the airline’s fault, but I just really want to go home.”
— Emily Tsang (@ETemily) August 13, 2019
One protester, Anson Ng, insisted that demonstrators not “panic flee” like they did on Monday following “people spreading fake news” about a police initiative to clear the area.
Debbie Chiu, a 48-year-old housewife, returned to the airport at noon on Tuesday after joining the sit-in the day before.
She considered Monday’s protest a failure, saying police “tricked us.”
“The internet network was paralysed, and photos of riot police standing by in the restricted area were circulated among the protesters…We were scared and left.”
As the number of takeoffs and landings dwindled, the airport authority activated its emergency center to help deal with the crowds and help carriers clear their backlogs of flights.
Many in the HK business community worried that the protests would damage the city’s reputation. In a statement, Cathay Pacific Airways said the demonstrations had damaged Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation hub.
Still, the protesters show no signs of slowing down, even as the PLA masses forces in Shenzen, creating the looming impression of a possible invasion.
Nearly two months after Lam shelved the hated extradition bill that sparked the protest movement, the protesters still have yet to see their demands met, according to the Guardian: The ‘full withdrawal’ of the extradition bill, an independent investigation into the police’s use of force at the demonstrations, and the introduction ‘genuine universal suffrage’.