Protesters brought Hong Kong to a standstill today (Aug. 5) as they waged a major citywide general strike in the latest escalation of their nine-week-long protest movement.
As the weekend of guerrilla protests across different districts of the city gave way to the start of the regular work week, protesters coordinated actions to paralyze train lines and block roads. Train service was disrupted across all major lines as protesters prevented train doors from closing and occupied platforms. Multiple attempts were made to temporarily block vehicular traffic at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, a major link between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. Some even drove in endless circles at a roundabout. Tensions flared at various points as frustrated commuters criticized protesters for the chaos, and at least one car was seen driving through barricades put up by demonstrators.
Some 14,000 workers across 20 sectors were expected to take part in one of the largest strikes in decades, as protesters step up their campaign of civil disobedience in their bid to pressure the local government to address their demands. The protests began in opposition to an extradition bill, but have since evolved to include calls for greater democracy as well as an investigation into alleged police brutality. So far, the government has only agreed to suspend the bill indefinitely.
The Hong Kong International Airport—one of the busiest in the world—saw more than 230 flights cancelled, according to its website, and only one of two runways was in operation. The disruption comes as a group of air traffic controllers yesterday (Aug. 4) issued a statement appealing to all Hong Kongers, “especially those working in the aviation industry, to unite and participate in the massive city-wide strike.” Some 2,000 Cathay Pacific employees and another 510 from Hong Kong Airlines are reported to have called in sick today, alongside hundreds of ground staff and maintenance workers, according to local media (link in Chinese). Airport Express, the train link connecting the airport to downtown, also saw a temporary suspension of service followed by major delays.
Chief executive Carrie Lam addressed the public this morning, her first time doing so in two weeks. She condemned radical and violent protesters for fomenting revolution and seeking to destroy Hong Kong, and chastised the strikers for disrupting traffic. She offered no political solution to resolve the crisis, other than a promise of daily press briefings by the police force. As she spoke, the benchmark Hang Seng Index sank further still, shaving almost 3% by lunch time.
A diverse groups of workers joined today’s strike, including a major travel agency, cast members from Hong Kong Disneyland, and medical staff. Seven rallies are scheduled to be held across Hong Kong throughout the afternoon.