August 14 (TRT World) – Hong Kong’s airport reopened on Tuesday but its administrator warned that flight movements would still be affected, after China said protests that have swept the city over the past two months had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism”.
Despite the airport reopening, Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled over 200 flights to and out of the airport on Tuesday, according to its website.
The airport, one of the world’s busiest, blamed demonstrators for halting flights on Monday, but the exact trigger for the closure was not clear as protesters occupying the arrivals hall for the past five days have been peaceful.
Most protesters had left the airport shortly after midnight, with about 50 protesters still there on Tuesday morning.
“Hong Kong International Airport will implement flight rescheduling today with flight movements expected to be affected,” said a notice published on the Hong Kong International Airport’s official mobile app on Tuesday.
Cathay Pacific said it would only operate a limited number of flights for connecting passengers. Airport flight boards showed the likes of Emirates Airline and Virgin Australia had flights scheduled to depart on Tuesday.
A Reuters reporter saw more than 100 travellers queuing up at Cathay’s ticketing counter early on Tuesday.
“The way to handle last night was chaotic,” said Kate Flannery from Australia, who was travelling to Paris. “The airport authority didn’t deal with the situation. I felt like I was walking around and nobody gave us information.”
A Cathay customer officer at the airport, who declined to provide his name, said that nearly all of the airline’s flights were full.
“It is possible that the airport authority will cancel more flights as they need to control the air traffic movements at the Hong Kong International Airport,” he said.
In Beijing, the Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office issued a statement saying the situation in Hong Kong was “beginning to show the sprouts of terrorism” and constituted an “existential threat” to the population of Hong Kong.
“One must take resolute action toward this violent criminality, showing no leniency or mercy,” said the statement, attributed to spokesman Yang Guang. “Hong Kong has reached an inflection point where all those who are concerned about Hong Kong’s future must say ‘no’ to lawbreakers and ‘no’ to those engaged in violence.”
Only flights that had already begun boarding or those cleared for landing were allowed to use runways at the airport.
“All other flights have been cancelled for the rest of today,” the airport statement said.
A massive traffic jam soon formed on the highway leading back to Hong Kong’s city centre. Some protesters were seen walking toward the airport amid the stifling heat.
Hong Kong police showed off water cannons that could be deployed in the case of future demonstrations, a development which Amnesty International has warned could lead to serious injuries if misused within the densely-populated city’s confined spaces.
Legislators and journalists were invited to witness the display of extreme crowd control tactics, which came after a weekend of protests at the airport and on the streets of one of the city’s main shopping districts.
Metro stations in Hong Kong also resumed regular service earlier on Monday and streets were being cleaned of debris as the city recovered from another night of violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police, with more protests planned this week.
Police fired volleys of tear gas at protesters across the territory on Sunday and staged baton charges in flashpoints in downtown Hong Kong and in working-class districts.
At one stage police stormed some underground train stations, firing tear gas and arresting protesters.
Protesters threw two petrol bombs, which police said injured an officer, and used flash-mob strategy, withdrawing when pressed to reappear elsewhere, to combat police.
The protests blocked multiple roads in key commercial and shopping districts and shuttered public facilities across the Asian financial hub.
The increasingly violent protests since June have emerged as Hong Kong’s most serious crisis in decades and become one of the biggest challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
What began as opposition to a proposed bill to allow people to be extradited to mainland China to stand trial in the Communist Party-controlled courts evolved into calls for greater democracy in Hong Kong.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back in 1997.
They are calling on the government to listen to public demands, particularly an independent investigation into the handling of the protests.
Beijing says criminals and agitators are stirring violence, encouraged by “interfering” foreign powers including Britain, but the protests seem to enjoy broad support in the city of more than 7 million people.
The British government is concerned about the latest violence in its former colony and wants calm from all sides, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.
Johnson’s spokesman said Britain wanted the Hong Kong government to engage with all parties in constructive dialogue.
North Korea said late on Sunday it fully supports China on the situation in Hong Kong, which it also said was caused by “foreign forces” interfering in an internal affairs of China to encroach on the security and order of the Chinese city.
China is the main diplomatic ally and economic benefactor of isolated North Korea, which has been under international sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile development.
No country, entity or individual should be allowed to “destroy the sovereignty and security of China and ‘one country and two systems’ as Hong Kong is Hong Kong of China,” the North’s foreign ministry spokesman said in comments carried by the official KCNA news agency.
Police have arrested more than 600 people since the protests started more than two months ago.