September 01, 2019

Hong Kong protesters clash with police in airport and shut down roads as calls grow for British protection
Pro-democracy protesters obstructed access to the Hong Kong airport on Sunday after police arrested dozens the night before and deployed water cannon and tear gas in response to activists lobbing petrol bombs and bricks. Activists snarled road and rail links, erecting barriers and flooding stations en route to the airport, while shouting: “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom!” Others drove slowly on purposes to hinder traffic. Some built barricades outside the airport, dispersing in a flash when riot police charged and aggressively pinned people down to make arrests. The plan was to re-create mass chaos last seen in mid-August when a five-day occupation of the airport – one of the world’s busiest transport hubs – led to hundreds of flight cancellations. Scenes briefly turned violent when protesters assaulted two men from mainland China and clashed with riot police. “The Hong Kong airport is extremely important to the city in terms of the economy, and tourism,” said Toby Pun, 23. “I hope this will force the government to respond.” Hong Kong - How the protests spread Although some flights were cancelled, most still took off as scheduled on Sunday, the planes roaring above protesters’ heads. Sunday’s actions came just one day after some of the city’s most intense clashes this summer. Activists marched in the rain through several neighbourhoods before chucking Molotov cocktails and projectiles at government offices and police headquarters. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon laced with blue dye to help identify, and possibly arrest, protesters later. By nightfall, officers shot two live rounds into the sky as warnings while protesters lit a strip of stadium seats on fire, setting ablaze a main road and sending black smoke billowing around brightly lit skyscrapers. Protests first kicked off early June against an extradition proposal that would have sent people to face trial in mainland China, where Communist Party influence contributes to a 99.9 per cent conviction rate. Demands have since expanded to include greater political accountability and wider democratic freedoms, plunging Hong Kong into its worst political crisis in decades. After largely being reactive and at times blindsided by protesters’ flash mob tactics, police in recent days seem to be getting better at anticipating and thwarting them. Hundreds of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists attempted to block transport routes to the city's airport  Credit: LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images Police stood on guard at the airport Sunday morning, placing heavy water barriers around entrances and only allowing passengers through. Later in the day, several teams were spotted at ferry piers and train stations in efforts to catch retreating protesters. The nearly 1,000 arrests made are starting to weigh on protesters, with many encouraging each other to flee quickly when police arrive to prevent being cuffed themselves. Closures of the city’s subway stations have also impeded protesters’ mobility to arrive at rallies and to flee the scene. By early afternoon Sunday, the city’s subway operator shut the airport express line and a number of bus links were down, forcing demonstrators, passengers, flight attendants, and journalists to walk more than three miles to the airport from the closest subway station that remained open. A visitor from Taiwan rushing to return home said the disruption didn’t bother him. “Protesting is the right of citizens,” said Mr Liu, 35, declining to give a full name. “If the flight is delayed, then we will stay at the airport and support the protesters,” said Peter, a Hong Konger who left early and walked nearly an hour to get to the airport. A policeman beats a protester in the men's toilet inside Hong Kong International Airport Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images Despite escalating violence and disruption to daily life in Hong Kong, known for being an efficient global business centre, the youth-driven political movement has until now continued to draw wide public support. “I’ve attended most protests since June,” said a woman who gave her name as Miu, 58. “Those teenagers – they have been really kind. One day when police threw lots of tear gas, a really young protester, only 20, took off her gas mask and gave it to me.” But that may not remain the case with increasing disruptions to regular life and school due to star this week, which could keep activists – many of whom are students – off the streets. To prevent that, a citywide strike has been called as well as a boycott on the first few days of university and secondary school classes. Calls are also growing for the UK to pressure Beijing to uphold the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which kicked in when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule and guaranteed the Communist system would not be practiced in the territory for at least 50 years. Firefighters extinguish a fire at a road block during a protest in Hong Kong Credit: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg In the central business district, hundreds also gathered Sunday outside the British Consulate, waving the Union Jack flag and holding signs that read “SOS,” calling on the UK to recognise that freedoms were disappearing. “The UK government is not standing up or doing enough, and just lets the Chinese government speak,” said Shirley Lo, 22, “I feel like they left us behind here and didn’t take enough action for us.” Some also chanted, “Make Hong Kong British again!” and “We love British, we are British, equal rights for BNO!” demanding the right to live and work in the UK for holders of the British National Overseas passport. Introduced in the last decade of colonial rule, the BNO passport, with its burgundy cover and coat of arms, looks like a regular British passport but doesn’t provide holders with the right of abode, long a point of contention. “If people from the EU leave the UK because of Brexit, we can fill in the labour market,” said Rex Wong, 42, whose entire family of four holds BNO passports. “Hong Kong people are hard-working, intelligent… We can help make the UK better.” Many at the rally, however, avoided questions from the Telegraph about why they looked to the UK for support, even though life under British rule was harsh for some Hong Kong people. But it was clear that they remembered the colonial era with a more positive lens than that of current Chinese rule. Hong Kong has long had a complicated relationship with the UK, though many have long attributed a robust capitalist system and strong rule of law to the British. MP Tom Tugendhat, and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has called on the UK to treat BNO holders as UK citizens. “It would right a wrong we should never have implemented, and give people living there options,” he wrote in a comment piece for the Telegraph last month. Additional reporting by Michael Zhang
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