Hong Kong protesters effectively forced the airport to shut down

“Stop shooting us.”
“Stop shooting us.”
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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Hong Kong International Airport canceled all departing flights scheduled to leave from this afternoon local time (Aug. 12) after thousands of protesters, clad in black, flooded the major transport hub in response to police actions over the weekend.

The airport demonstration began as a peaceful anti-government sit-in last Friday. But calls for more protesters to gather there came after police unleashed an unprecedented and at times horrifying amount of force against people rallying throughout the city yesterday (Aug. 11). By Monday afternoon, the airport’s arrival and departure halls were packed with protesters ceaselessly chanting slogans.

Media reports had emerged over the weekend of police disguising themselves as protesters, and infiltrating the crowds before violently arresting multiple people. At one train station, police were seen firing what appeared to be pepper balls at protesters at point-blank range before violently beating them down a steep escalator. At another demonstration, police were seen firing tear gas and rubber bullets directly into a busy subway interchange. A female protester was also reportedly shot in the eye by what appeared to be a police bean bag round.

Police on Monday confirmed that they had joined the protests in disguise but denied the eye injury.

Hong Kong has seen weekly demonstrations since early June in protest of an extradition bill which many see as illustrative of mainland China’s increased oversight of the semi-autonomous authority.

The airport sit-in was characterized by demonstrators sitting peacefully and chanting slogans like “Hong Kong police, return the eye”—a direct reference to the female protester with the eye injury. Many walked around carrying signs and wearing red-paint-splattered goggles and eye-patches. Other slogans chanted in a non-stop loop included “Shame on Hong Kong police” and “Don’t trust Hong Kong police.”

Around 4pm local time, the Hong Kong Airport Authority issued an advisory saying all flights had been cancelled, and that passengers should “leave the terminal buildings as soon as possible.” More than 100 departing flights were affected, and many flights scheduled to arrive later in the evening were listed as either delayed or cancelled. As unconfirmed reports of imminent police action spread, a large number of protesters decided to march on a road outside the airport, and crowds in the airport thinned significantly.

One protester at the airport, a middle-aged woman who only gave her last name, Lam, said that she was distraught at the violence unleashed by the police against protesters yesterday. “These youngsters made us wake up” and stand up to the Chinese Communist Party, she said.