Hong Kong airport has reopened but chaos continues in the terminals with passengers left stranded and hundreds of flights still cancelled a day after pro-democracy protesters brought the major travel hub to a standstill.
It comes as the city’s leader Carrie Lam blamed protesters for attempts to “destroy the rule of law” she said had made the city no longer safe.
Local media is reporting that only a handful of protesters remained at the airport by Tuesday afternoon and many posters from Monday’s “eye for an eye” rally had been taken down.
The sit-in was called “an eye for an eye” after a young woman was shot with a suspected bean-bag round by police at Tsim Shui Tsui on Sunday. There are fears she may be permanently blind in one eye.
In an emotional press conference, Ms Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said she was saddened by the violence and would visit the injured woman. But she targeted protesters in her calls for harmony.
“Hong Kong is seriously wounded. It will take a long time to recover,” Ms Lam said.
She refused to answer questions about whether police had done anything wrong, amid evidence officers had used tear gas and injured a young woman on the streets. Mr Lam said police had to “make judgments, and sometimes it’s hard”.
Police also admitted sending in officers posed as protesters.
The BBC reported that Deputy Police Commissioner Tang Ping-Keung defended the use of “decoy officers”, adding that police were responding to protesters who had been armed with slings and petrol bombs.
“I can say that during the time when our police officers were disguised … they [did not] provoke anything.” he said. “We won’t ask them to stir up trouble.”
“Our operation … is targeting extreme violent rioters,” he added.
While international visitors to Hong Kong complained of the inconvenience of missed or rescheduled flights after the airport was closed on Monday, locals involved in the mass demonstrations urged outsiders to consider their cause and the injury to the young woman.
“You are angry because your flight is cancelled.”
One stranded Australian tourist got into an argument with protesters at Hong Kong airport, saying they supported independence and that police should crack down harder. It didn’t go well for him. https://t.co/7TryMbHrEW pic.twitter.com/x7dIuNQ5ot
— 𝕛𝕒𝕞𝕖𝕤 𝕘𝕣𝕚𝕗𝕗𝕚𝕥𝕙𝕤 🇭🇰🏴 (@jgriffiths) August 12, 2019
The airport reopened early on Tuesday (local time), but its administrator warned flight movements would still be affected well into the day.
Among those trapped late on Monday were Victorian man Malcolm Jones and his wife, who were returning to Melbourne from Vietnam.
The couple said they could hear protests outside the airport. Several hours after their arrival, the cancellation of all flights was announced.
At first they counted themselves lucky to be among about 20 Qantas passengers flying business class.
“We’re almost in the DMZ here,” Mr Jones told the ABC.
“We’re totally isolated really.”
Hong Kong airport cancelled flight check-ins from Monday afternoon after anti-government protesters occupied the arrivals hall to protest police brutality towards protesters over the weekend.
Word of tear gas and arrests outside the airport began to filter in to passengers, with news reports advising that all transport had been shut down and the airport area was to be avoided.
Qantas cancelled three flights due to leave Hong Kong on Monday night and grounded a further three departing Australian cities on Tuesday morning – QF97 from Brisbane, QF29 from Melbourne and QF127 from Sydney.
Two Virgin Australia flights – VA82 to Sydney and VA68 to Melbourne – were due to depart Hong Kong on Monday night. They were re-scheduled for Tuesday.
“Hong Kong International Airport will implement flight rescheduling today with flight movements expected to be affected,” said a notice published on the Hong Kong International Airport’s official mobile app on Tuesday.
Cathay Pacific said it would operate a limited number of flights for connecting passengers. Hong Kong is the world’s 8th busiest by passenger traffic, handling 73 million passengers a year.
The developments at the airport on Monday night raised the stakes sharply after a weekend of skirmishes during which activists and police toughened their stances.
Beijing also toughened its language on Monday, with Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang warning that there were “sprouts of terrorism emerging” in the former British colony.
— Alex (@ascottpedersen) August 12, 2019
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected that claim, calling for a peaceful resolution to the 10-week stand-off.
Hong Kong Legislative Council member Claudia Mo said on Monday protesters had moved to the airport to avoid the police brutality they had experienced on the streets of Hong Kong.
“Their attempt is to make as much noise as possible about their demand for democracy and so on in Hong Kong,” she said.
The increasingly violent demonstrations have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.