Thousands of protesters occupied the Hong Kong International Airport on Monday, and though most of them have dispersed, a few hundred still remain.
Almost 200 flights coming in and out of the city have been cancelled, and the airport’s exit points are packed with people trying to leave.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Why are protesters at the airport? Protesters are targeting the airport to take their message directly to global travellers and the international community. They’ve sought international support before — ahead of the G20 Summit, protesters urged foreign consulates to back the movement, and took out full-page ads in the New York Times. It’s also a comparatively safe protest space that has yet to attract the attention of the police.
- What about the flights? 123 flights departing from Hong Kong and 73 arriving flights have been cancelled, according to flight tracking site Flightaware.com. Of those, two were directly linked to the United States — one departing from Los Angeles and the other slated to land in Seattle.
- What sparked today’s protests? There is widespread outrage over alleged police brutality — especially after a widely-circulated image of a woman whose eye was injured yesterday night as riot police attempted to disperse crowds.
- What is this all about? This is the 11th consecutive week of protests in Hong Kong. It all started in June over a controversial bill that would have allowed extradition to China — but it has since been shelved, and protester demands have expanded to include calls for greater democracy and an independent investigation into police brutality. Violence has been steadily escalating — which may be why protesters are hurrying to leave the airport now in case riot police show up.
Christian group staying in airport to keep the peace
A group of Christian pastors and priests are remaining at Hong Kong airport for now, even as many protesters head for the exits, in order to keep help the peace and ensure the safety of those still in the terminal.
There are about a dozen of them, wearing orange vests emblazoned with Christian fish symbols. Paul Lamb, a member of the group, told CNN they were supporting the protesters through peaceful action.
“We are Christian, we would like to do a prayer here,” he said. “We would like to stay with all (the protesters) here to show them what Christians are.”
The vibe in the airport has changed dramatically since the tense, packed scenes earlier. Some of the remaining protesters are cheering and chanting slogans at passengers in the international arrivals hall, but most are sitting around quietly.
Crowds thinning dramatically as most protesters head for the exists
The crowd of protesters at Hong Kong airport has begun to seriously thin amid rumors of impending police action.
Only a few hundred protesters are left of from the huge crowds which earlier had succeeded in shutting down one of the world’s busiest airports.
Of those who are left, most are chanting at the new arrivals who touch down.
Hayden Smyth, a tourist from Australia, said it was a “bit of a different welcome than I’m used to.”
One 20-year-old protester, who had decided to stay, said he didn’t think the police would conduct a major clearance operation at this point, given the reduced crowd size.
There had been fears that police would use tear gas and rubber bullets, as they have at other protests. The airport had attracted many protesters precisely because it was seen as a safer location.
Frank Chan, Hong Kong’s Secretary of Transport, told reporters this was “not the first time there’s a protest at Hong Kong airport.”
“As long as protesters can quickly evacuate, I don’t think there needs to be any clearance operation,” he said.
China said Hong Kong protests are showing signs of “terrorism.” That’s a concerning rhetorical escalation
Use of the terrorism label for the Hong Kong protests, even in a somewhat backhanded way, is a major rhetorical shift in how China has described the protests, and could foreshadow an escalation in Beijing’s handling of them.
Earlier today, a top Chinese official said the protests — now in their eleventh week — had “begun to show signs of terrorism.” In recent years, that term has only been used in a domestic Chinese context to refer to the actions of alleged Islamist groups, particularly in Xinjiang, the predominantly Muslim northwest region of China. Beijing has cracked down heavily in Xinjiang in recent years, establishing a massive system of so-called “re-education camps” in which millions of Muslims have been detained.
In domestic propaganda, there has been a major shift in recent weeks in how the protests are covered. Reports initially barely mentioned them, amid heavy censorship, as is usual for anti-government actions anywhere in China, but increasingly they have emphasized the violent side of the protests — and sought to paint the protesters as separatists being controlled by the United States and other foreign “black hands.”
Suggesting those protesters are also committing acts of terror could open the door for Beijing to crack down on Hong Kong, either by ordering the local police to escalate their use of force, or even by deploying the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the city.
The PLA can be deployed in Hong Kong if the local government requests it, in order to assist with a major breakdown in public order. Local officials have previously refuted any suggestion they would do so.
Earlier Monday, police showed off a riot control vehicle with water cannon, previously never used in Hong Kong. Across the border in Shenzhen, the People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary organization, conducted major exercises seen as a potential signal to protesters in Hong Kong.
The People’s Armed Police have been assembling in Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong, in advance of apparent large-scale exercises, videos obtained by the Global Times have shown.
Culled from CNN