Anti-government protesters severely disrupt Hong Kong International Airport again

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This story is being published as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on August 13, 2019.

Anti-government protesters have severely disrupted air travel for a second straight day, forcing Hong Kong International Airport to suspend check-in services for all departing flights.

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The Airport Authority announced on Tuesday afternoon that only passengers checked in before 4:30 p.m. would be able to fly. Incoming flights for the rest of the day would continue.

Thousands of demonstrators had occupied the area around the check-in aisles from about 2:30 p.m., before making their way towards departure gates in an escalation of their protest, while at least 1,000 remained in the arrivals section.

While the public address system urged passengers to leave as soon as possible, many showed no sign of leaving.

A day earlier, protesters similarly prevented passengers from checking in or clearing security, forcing the cancellation of all flights in and out of the city from 4 p.m..

In a sign of fraying tempers among the traveling public on Tuesday, a woman was seen trying to break through protesters’ lines towards the northern departure gate of Terminal 1, shouting “I want to go home”. Her passage was blocked by protesters, before airport staff stepped in.

Protester Anson Ng, who said members of his group were hurt as the irate female traveler was pulled from the seated crowd, said demonstrators must not “panic flee” like they did on Monday in reaction to “people spreading fake news” about police launching a clearance.

The 19-year-old said: “We have learned a lesson.”

A family of three from Thailand was left in tears after they were blocked yet again by protesters. They had been scheduled to fly on Monday, but their flight was canceled because of the earlier sit-in.

“You can fight with your government, but not me, understand? I just want to go home!” said a Thai woman, who was also comforting her son.

“We pay money to your country but you do this to us … we will never come here again.”

Pavol Cacara, a 51-year-old visitor from Slovakia, tried to reason with protesters that blocking the airport would not help their cause.

“They are turning public opinion against them. Is it right to take the freedom of someone else when they are trying to fight for their freedom?” he said.

“I see lots of sympathetic young people here and I’m afraid of them. They need to have some limits.”

Barbara Hill, 84, felt similarly after protesters wouldn’t let her group of five pass, despite the appeals of Australian consular staff. Hill, one of two elderly people who had to turn back in their wheelchairs, appeared relaxed as she comforted her younger companion, Helina Marshall, who had been reduced to tears by the frustration.

“I was sympathetic to their cause,” Hill said. “But I think they are harming their cause by stopping passengers getting through.”

Another group of stymied travelers remonstrated angrily with protesters after trying to push through a barricade they had made out of luggage trolleys. The foreigners accused the protesters of acting “like mafia.”

Marshall said: “We have got an old lady here, 84 years old and she has heart problems. So they can’t let her through to go back home?”

As of noon, the Airport Authority said there were fewer take-offs and landings at the airport as the statutory body worked with airlines to reschedule flights still backlogged from the day before.

It said the airport’s emergency center had been activated in response to the threat of another public assembly.

The Airport Express train, meanwhile, would run at 15-minute intervals, less frequently than usual.

Some backroom staff at Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways were asked to leave work from lunchtime, with company buses taking office workers home from 2 p.m.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China on Tuesday announced arrangements to help travelers between Hong Kong and mainland China, by boosting airlines’ capacity and handling ticket transfers and refunds. It added it would increase transfer capacity at other airports in southern China.

The national flag carrier Air China said it would add extra flights between Beijing and Shenzhen, the mainland city neighboring Hong Kong, for the rest of the day.

Three of its Hong Kong-bound flights were diverted to Shenzhen on Monday.

Long lines of passengers formed in the departure hall at check-in counters as the airport tried to recover from Monday’s chaos and airlines worked to clear their backlogs, while others were seen sleeping after camping at the airport overnight.

Figures published by the Travel Industry Council revealed the level of disruption among guided tours, with nearly 100 groups, comprising thousands of passengers, having their trips canceled or delayed in and out of Hong Kong, as of 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

Airlines were critical of protesters for the disruption they caused on Monday.

In a statement, Cathay Pacific Airways said Monday’s protest had damaged Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation hub by seriously disrupting the journeys of thousands of passengers.

“We’d like to make it absolutely clear that we do not condone such behavior,” it said.

The airline said it was working closely with the local airport authority and the mainland’s Civil Aviation Department to minimize disruption.

Hong Kong Airlines, which is controlled by mainland Chinese conglomerate the HNA Group, took out adverts in newspapers condemning violent acts, saying they openly challenged the principle of “one country, two systems,” and expressed its support for the city’s government and police.

They urged the city to “calm down all riots and protect Hong Kong.”

In the wake of the government’s shelving of the extradition bill, which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent back to the mainland, protesters have been trying to broadcast their demands to an international audience.

The five demands of the movement include the bill’s full withdrawal and an independent investigation into police’s use of force at demonstrations, as well as genuine universal suffrage.

Additional reporting by Kanis Leung

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