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Hong Kong: riot police pursue pro-democracy protesters from airport

Hong Kong: riot police pursue pro-democracy protesters from airport
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Sunday, 01 September, 2019, 19:40

Thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong have paralysed traffic and shut down transport links between the city and the airport during another day of protests demanding democratic freedoms in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

On Sunday, demonstrators attempted to lay siege to the airport to draw global attention to the city that has been plunged into political crisis for the last three months.

Travellers were stranded as an express train linking the airport to the city and several bus lines were suspended and roads were heavily congested. About two dozen flights were cancelled and more than 40 others delayed as staff and passengers struggled to reach the airport.

The protest began in the afternoon when protesters dressed in black, with helmets and masks, some armed with plastic and metal poles, descended on the airport in Lantau island, blocking roads and forcing travellers to abandon their cars and drag their luggage the rest of the way toward the airport.

As hundreds of riot police arrived, they quickly retreated to a nearby town of Tung Chung, where they overtook a shopping complex and vandalised a metro station. Protesters smashed CCTV cameras and the windows of a control room, and flooded the station with water, setting off emergency sirens.

Protesters scrawled on the walls: “Glory be to Hong Kong,” and “Black police” – the black being a reference to gangsters. One group lit a makeshift barricade on fire and another burned a Chinese flag, a gesture aimed at antagonising Beijing.

“The government has not answered us, so we keep coming,” said Engred Lai, 18, a protester dressed head to toe in black and wearing a gas mask.

Sunday’s protests come less than a day after protesters and police clashed in running battles on Saturday, as the city marks its 13th consecutive weekend of mass protests. The protests, triggered by a proposed bill to allow extradition to mainland China, have plunged Hong Kong into its worst political crisis in decades.

As the protests, now a broader political movement demanding democracyfor the former British colony under Chinese control since 1997, continue, authorities have ramped up their tactics.

On Saturday, as helicopters hovered overhead, police fired rounds of teargas and water cannons at protesters, staining them with blue dye to mark them for arrest later. Undercover police were seen clashing with and arresting protesters.

Protesters threw petrol bombs and bricks at police and set fire to a pyre across a road outside the police headquarters. Police also stormed several metro stations, arresting protesters. In one incident, officers stormed a train carriage, using batons to beat passengers and deploying pepper spray.

Demonstrators on Sunday said they were not intimidated. “I’m not scared because many Hongkongers have already been caught. I know I’m not alone,” said Lui Cheung, 17, as he blocked a road outside the airport.

In a press conference on Sunday, police said they had arrested 63 people during clashes on Saturday, including a 13-year-old boy who police said was carrying petrol bombs. More than 900 have been arrested since June, including pro-democracy lawmakers and prominent activists like Joshua Wong, a student leader in 2014 protests known as the umbrella movement.

“Day by day this doesn’t feel like Hong Kong,” said Joey Cheung, a taxi driver who was trying to get to the airport. “If Hong Kong keeps going this way, who knows what will happen. Either a police or a protester – someone is going to get killed very soon.”

By early evening on Sunday, protesters had scattered from Tung Chung, as some took ferries back to Hong Kong island and others crammed into public buses. Hundreds began walking a distance of 13km to the nearest train station, while some escaped into cars waiting for them.

Dozens of riot police arrived at Tung Chung after protesters had scattered where they were heckled by local residents calling them “Black society”, a term for gangsters. The police have been accused of colluding with triad gangs and thugs to attack protesters, claims the police and government have vehemently denied.

An elderly demonstrator wearing a vest that read “Protect children” placed himself in front of the police with his hands up, trying to stop them from searching the area for protesters. The police searched passengers stranded at the station and reportedly made several arrests.

Beijing has reportedly barred the Hong Kong government, under its chief executive, Carrie Lam, from conceding to any of the protesters’ demands, which include the permanent withdrawal of the extradition bill as well as universal suffrage.

Beijing has issued increasingly ominous warnings and the Chinese military has held several rounds of exercises across the border from Hong Kong in Shenzhen, but experts say a military intervention is still unlikely.