(Bloomberg) — Protests forced Hong Kong’s airport to suspend check-ins for departing flights — its second straight day of major service disruptions — as embattled local leader Carrie Lam warned that the city risked sliding into an “abyss.”
Hundreds of black-shirted protesters staged a sit-in at the departures hall at Hong Kong International Airport, preventing some checked-in passengers from reaching their planes. Airlines including Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. had already canceled hundreds more flights Tuesday, the day after the government decided to briefly shut the airport during a mass demonstration in the arrivals area.
The interruptions follow a weekend of violence that saw police fire tear gas into a subway station and shoot rubber bullets at close range.
Here’s the latest:
First Aiders Help Man Who Appears to Have Fainted (9:31 p.m.)
Protesters tied up the hands a man they allege is a mainland public security officer, saying he was masquerading as one of them. Hundreds of people gather round as ambulance and airport staff try to help the man.
Remaining Check-Ins Canceled (6:52 p.m.)
Hong Kong’s airport halted check-ins for remaining departures for a second straight day, the airport authority said in a statement, after protesters blocked outgoing gates in a dramatic sit-in. The cancellation of all check-ins was announced after hundreds of black-shirted protesters sat down in the airport’s departure halls. The move came a day after authorities shut the airport amid a mass rally in the arrival hall Monday.
China’s Leader Faces a Dilemma (6:14 p.m.)
It’s the question worrying some in Hong Kong: Will Chinese President Xi Jinping send in troops to restore order? Xi now faces a dilemma over whether to wait the protesters out or bring in his forces. The likelihood he’ll do that remains low. While Xi could choose to do away with the city’s autonomy, there would be immense cost to both the Chinese leader and his country. It could dwarf any fallout from the weekslong protest movement. Among those risk factors is his protracted trade war with the U.S.
Mainland Airports Stand To Benefit (5:52 p.m.)
The disruptions at Hong Kong’s airport could be a boon for its competitors. It drove big gains Tuesday in shares of airports just over the Chinese border. Shenzhen Airport Co. soared by the 10% daily limit, while Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Co. was up 4.5% to a record high. They had also rallied Monday. The unrest may lead global carriers to reevaluate Hong Kong’s role as an international hub and flights allocated there, helping megacity Shenzhen establish itself as a hub in the longer run, Citic Securities Co. said.
Cathay Parent Backs Government (5:35 p.m.)
Cathay Pacific’s parent company, Swire Pacific Ltd., said it has “consistently and resolutely” supported Hong Kong’s development and remains fully committed to the city.
UN Agency Urges Restraint (5:29 p.m.)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned police for firing tear gas directly at protesters, saying they created “a considerable risk of death or serious injury.” It also urged protesters to express their views peacefully. The office “reviewed credible evidence of law enforcement officials employing less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards,” spokesman Rupert Colville said in a statement.
Departure Gates Closed (4:23 p.m.)
The airport closed its north and south departure gates at international Terminal 1, leaving long lines of passengers who had already checked in to wait for further instruction.
The closures came as Hong Kong police said at a daily briefing that officers fired 58 rounds of tear gas and seven rounds of rubber bullets as violence escalated Saturday, moves that helped fuel protester anger.
Protests Spread to Departures Hall (3:32 p.m.)
Hundreds of black-shirted protesters spread to the airport’s departures area, bringing passenger check-ins to a crawl. They sat on the floor and blocked the route to the terminal’s north departure gates as they chanted “Shame on Hong Kong police.” A trickle of passengers were still getting through, but others remained in a long line, some sitting warily with their luggage carts. The crew channel was closed off. As the crowd of protesters shifted, the arrivals hall largely emptied out.
“They shoot press, they shoot first aid, they are HK police,” one protester’s sign read.
Patten: China Intervention Would Be ‘Catastrophe’ (2:20 p.m.)
Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, Chris Patten, told the BBC on Tuesday that the government’s refusal to formally withdraw the extradition bill and set up an independent inquiry into the protests was to blame for pushing Hong Kong to the abyss. He urged President Xi Jinping and the local government to seek reconciliation avoid forcibly suppressing protests. “That would be a catastrophe,” said Patten, who served as governor from 1992 to 1997.
Plans for Sunday March Detailed (1:19 p.m.)
The Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organized three historically large marches against the extradition bill in June and July, detailed plans to hold a similar public procession at 3 p.m. Sunday. The group’s challenge will be maintaining the largely peaceful atmosphere of the earlier events as some protests turn to violence and the police employ more forceful measures to disperse them. It’s unclear whether CHRF will get sign-off from the police, who have been withholding approval from some marches.
Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo, a prominent participant in CHRF protests, separately called Lam’s contention that she didn’t have authority over the police force “irresponsible.” “It’s very clear right now who is running Hong Kong, and that’s Beijing,” Mo said.
Airport Train Services Cut (12:51 p.m.)
Hong Kong’s Airport Authority announced that trains between downtown and the terminals would depart less frequently after 1 p.m. in a bid to control crowds. The agency said fewer trains were necessary due to reduced flights at the airport. Trains would run at 15-minute intervals instead of the usual 10-minute span, an agency spokesman said.
Travelers Confront Protesters at Airport (11:15 a.m.)
Some travelers whose flights were disrupted by the airport protests confronted demonstrators, including one man speaking the Mandarin Chinese dialect preferred on the mainland, who complained that his trip had been delayed by a day. One protester apologized to the man, explaining that the government wouldn’t listen to their demands. Others shrugged off the delays.
Lam: Police Used ‘Lowest Level’ Force (10:14 a.m.)
Lam said police used the “lowest level of force” when asked why they had fired tear gas in residential areas, as she held a regular Q+A session ahead of a meeting of the city’s Executive Council. She urged calm, a refrain in recent weeks as violence between protesters and police worsens and tear gas is regularly deployed in crowded areas across the city.
At one point, she was interrupted by reporters as she sidestepped questions on whether she would resign — a key protester demand — and whether she had concrete proposals to ease residents’ fears.
“It would take a very long time to restore Hong Kong,” she said, choking up. “I again call on everyone to set aside prejudice, and be calm to look at the city, our home — do we really want to push it into the abyss?”
Read more on the potential toll of the unrest on Hong Kong’s economy
Lam Says Hong Kong in Chaos (9:48 a.m.)
After her session began, Lam asked the public whether they wanted to see Hong Kong fall into an abyss and said the city was in a chaotic situation.
The city’s rule of law is being hurt, she said, and non-cooperation events affected the airport and traffic. Lam also said she saw further suffering for the city’s economy, and that dialogue between the two sides could resume after violence stops.
Protesters Call for Return to Airport (9 a.m.)
Some protesters called for a return to the airport at 1 p.m. Tuesday, circulating a flyer online calling for people to gather featuring an airplane and blue sky.
Hong Kong Airlines vowed its support for the city’s government and police and condemned protester violence in a half-page advertisement in pro-Beijing local newspaper Wen Wei Po. It came as state-run Air China Ltd. canceled dozens of scheduled flights to the city on Tuesday, citing issues at the airport in a post to its official account on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
Read more from Monday’s scene at Hong Kong’s airport
Airport Resumes Normal Operation (6:40 a.m.)
The airport was operating normally as of now, a staff at the airport’s customer service hotline said by phone. It is re-scheduling 90 canceled flights from Monday. It may cancel more flights Tuesday depending on the situation as some protesters remained at the arrival hall. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific has canceled more than 200 flights to and out of Hong Kong Tuesday.
(A previous version of this story was corrected after the Airport Authority revised its statement to show flights still departing, check-in closed.)
–With assistance from Iain Marlow, Sebastian Chau, Annabelle Droulers and Stephen Engle.
To contact the reporters on this story: Yvonne Man in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Fion Li in Hong Kong at email@example.com;Annie Lee in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at email@example.com, Karen Leigh
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