Pro-democracy protesters flood Hong Kong’s airport in bid to raise international pressure

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters on Friday flooded the arrivals hall at Hong Kong’s airport in a bid to "educate" visitors about the political turmoil wracking the Chinese territory.

Chanting anti-government slogans, waving banners and handing out flyers, the black-clad demonstrators – joined by some flight crew – sought to inform arrivals about the authorities’ use of force to put down protests. 

They detailed how police had repeatedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, and how an assault last Sunday by pro-government gangs had put 45 people in hospital. Visitors were asked to sign a petition calling on authorities to prosecute the pipe-wielding attackers – alleged to be triad gangsters – who ambushed protesters as they returned by train from a rally. 

Meryl Yeung, a 29-year-old flight attendant who joined the protest after landing, said it was particularly important to get information to visitors from China. 

"They have no idea at all, they only get information from one side, they think everyone… coming to a protest, to a rally, are all rioters, or promoting Hong Kong independence," she said.

Demonstrators said they wanted to inform visitors about the reasons for the protests and the actions of security forces in the territoryCredit:
Vincent Yu/AP

The Flight Attendants Union of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flag carrier, said it supported the rally and encouraged its members to join, earning itself a rebuke in China’s state media.

"We feel deep regret with the incapability of our (chief executive) Carrie Lam and her team that only play tricks to fool its people," the union said in a message on Facebook, referring to the city’s unelected leader.

A group of organisers identifying themselves as air traffic controllers warned that they would hinder airport operations if the government did not respond to the demands of the protesters. 

“The airport is the world’s busiest cargo gateway and one of the world’s busiest passenger airports," they said in a circulated statement, saying there would be a "huge economic loss" from such actions at the transport hub. 

The protesters have demanded the complete withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill that prompted the latest wave of unrest, as well as the resignation of Ms Lam, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader. Her suspension of the legislation – allowing for the extradition of citizens to face trial on the Chinese mainland – has not been enough to quell the protests, which have morphed into a broader movement against the erosion of freedoms in the former British colony.

Anger has also been fuelled by an attack by alleged triad gangsters on protesters returning by train from a rallyCredit:
Anthony Wallace/AFP

Sunday’s attack at Yuen Long station has unleashed further anger among Hong Kongers, many of whom have accused the police of colluding with or turning a blind eye to the violence inflicted by the white-shirted hordes. The force has denied claims that it deliberately delayed attending the scene and took a gentler approach than it does against protesters.

With the international financial centre again braced for a weekend of protests, the Hong Kong government has sought to allay concerns over the safety of the city – as well as fears that the Chinese military could step in. 

On Wednesday, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said protesters surrounding and graffitiing Beijing’s offices in the city were challenging the mainland government, and that the People’s Liberation Army could be asked by Hong Kong authorities to intervene to end the demonstrations that have now lasted almost two months. 

The US has expressed concern about such statements. Speaking to the South China Morning Post on Thursday, a State Department spokesperson said Washington urged Beijing to “adhere to its commitments in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Basic Law to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy.”

A Hong Kong government spokesperson on Friday insisted authorities would not call in the Chinese army.  Authorities in the territory had "full capability to deal with the local affairs and maintain the public order," they told The Telegraph. "There is no need to ask for assistance from the garrison."