Hong Kong airport acts to stop protests after violent clashes
Hong Kong’s airport authority has obtained an interim injunction to stop protests at the airport, giving authorities more power to act against demonstrators after a rally at the aviation hub on Tuesday night erupted into fierce clashes with police.
The anti-government demonstrations at the airport, which have run for five successive days, also forced the mass cancellation of flights on Monday and Tuesday, hitting Hong Kong’s main airline Cathay Pacific Airways.
Under the injunction, people can be arrested for “unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering with” the airport and can be “restrained from attending or participating in any demonstration or protest or public order event in the airport other than in the area designated by the Airport Authority”, the airport said in a statement.
The demonstrations at the airport — the world’s third-busiest by passenger traffic — are the latest chapter in Hong Kong’s worst political crisis since the UK handed the territory back to China in 1997.
Now in their third month, the protests were triggered by now-suspended extradition legislation that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China for trial.
Cathay Pacific said on Wednesday morning that operations at the airport including its check-in counters had returned to normal but warned of the potential for disruptions at short notice. The airline had been forced to cancel around 200 flights on Tuesday, according to its website.
Cathay Pacific shares were up 3 per cent on Wednesday, after tumbling 7.3 per cent in two days in the wake of the airport closure and a directive from Beijing to stop staff who had taken part in “illegal” protests from flying on routes into mainland China.
Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author of a book on the history of protests in the territory, said the airport’s move to obtain an injunction mirrored the steps taken to clear demonstrators who had occupied roads during the city’s 2014 pro-democracy movement.
“Even in 2014 this was form over substance. Police could have ended occupations any time as unlawful assembly,” he said. “Injunctions provide convenient political cover” as the responsibility for cracking down is shifted away from the government and onto the private sector and the courts.
During the airport protests, police had remained out of sight as demonstrators forced the aviation hub’s closure on Monday and obstructed passenger access to departures on Tuesday.
However, officers entered the airport late on Tuesday and used pepper spray and batons as they tried to retrieve a man seized by protesters who claimed he was a mainland Chinese police officer.
At one point, a riot policeman pulled his pistol on protesters after one of them snatched his baton.
Protesters said the occupation of the airport was response to alleged excessive use of force by the police over the weekend during which protesters say a woman’s eye was injured by a police projectile. The force said it has launched an investigation into how the woman was injured and has accused protesters of violence.
Swire Pacific, Cathay’s owner said in a statement on Tuesday that it “resolutely” supports the government and police adding: “We condemn all illegal activities and violent behaviour, which seriously undermine the fundamental principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ as enshrined in the Basic Law.”
The “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong is ruled enshrines freedoms not seen in mainland China, such as a free press and freedom of assembly.
More than 40 departing flights were cancelled on Wednesday, according to the airport’s website in the morning.