More than 200 flights to and from Hong Kong were cancelled on Monday as an attempt by to launch the territory’s first general strike in decades got under way, deepening a political crisis in the city.

The strike comes as Hong Kong’s latest purchasing managers survey revealed private sector business activity in the territory had plunged to its lowest level since the global financial crisis of 2008.

Activists launched the industrial action in spite of government pleas for normalcy and after dozens of arrests overnight targeting protesters calling for the strike.

Hong Kong International Airport’s website listed 116 outbound flights and 97 inbound flights as cancelled on Monday morning after clashes on Sunday evening between police and protesters, the fourth straight day of demonstrations against the government. Many of the cancellations were by Hong Kong’s flag carrier, Cathay Pacific. 

There were also widespread delays and service suspensions on Hong Kong’s metro system amid reports of disruption by protesters enforcing the strike. Police said they had arrested 44 individuals on Sunday for offences including unlawful assembly. 

The industrial action follows more than two months of protests in the city that started with opposition to an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be tried in China. The protesters’ demands have since gone beyond withdrawing the bill to include calls for a more democratic system of government in the territory.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, announced she would hold a press conference on Monday morning after being largely absent from public view in recent days. Her government is facing the worst political crisis of any Hong Kong administration since the territory’s handover from Britain to China in 1997.

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Images circulated online ahead of the strike encouraging residents not to go to work. “[Ms Lam] has already been on strike for eleven days . . . why not you too?” they said. 

The unrest is taking its toll on Hong Kong’s economy. The latest IHS Markit Hong Kong purchasing managers’ index survey, which measures private sector activity in the territory, sank further to 43.8 in July from 47.9 in June, marking the steepest fall in the gauge since March 2009. A reading below 50 represents a contraction, with the index having now been below this mark for 16 months in a row.

The survey cited the impact of two months of political turbulence in Hong Kong.

For its part, the government has called for citizens to “stand fast at their posts and cherish Hong Kong’s hard-earned international financial centre status”, arguing in a statement that any large-scale strikes “will affect the livelihood and economic activities of Hong Kong citizens”. 

Via Financial Times