HONG KONG (Reuters) – Several hundred protesters calling for democracy and some chanting “free Hong Kong” converged on the Chinese-ruled city’s airport on Friday as neighboring Singapore advised its citizens to avoid parts of the territory.
A demonstrator holds a tablet with images of Yuen Long’s attacks, during a protest against the recent violence, at Hong Kong airport, China July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Airport authorities said operations wouldn’t be affected, but advised passengers to arrive early given the risk of disruption.
The former British colony of Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, is embroiled in its worst political crisis for decades after two months of increasingly violent protests that have posed one of the gravest populist challenges to China’s leader Xi Jinping since he took office.
The demonstrations, mushrooming up almost daily, saw the defacement of China’s main representative office last weekend, triggering warnings from Beijing this was an attack on China’s sovereignty.
What started as an angry response to a now-suspended extradition bill, which would have allowed defendants to be sent to the mainland for trial, now includes demands for greater democracy, the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and even keeping mainland Chinese tourists out of Hong Kong.
Some protesters, dressed in helmets and seated on the ground of the arrivals hall, held up signs calling on the government to withdraw the extradition bill completely, while chants of “Free Hong Kong” reverberated around the building.
“The world has been watching us in the past few weeks,” said Jeremy Tam, a former pilot and lawmaker who helped organize the protest with other aviation sector employees.
“We simply believe that the airport is the most direct way for all tourists to explain what is happening in Hong Kong.”
Singapore urged its citizens in a travel advisory on Friday to avoid parts of Hong Kong where protests may be taking place, noting the airport demonstration.
“If you are already in Hong Kong, you should take all necessary precautions to ensure your personal safety,” it read.
“Protests which are meant to be peaceful may still have the potential to turn violent with little or no notice.”
Some protesters handed out flyers explaining the city’s crisis to tourists.
Others condemned the failure of police to protect citizens and protesters from a frenzied attack by armed men at a train station last Sunday that shocked the city. Police sources say some of these men had triad backgrounds.
Members of the public, tourists and pilots, flight attendants and other aviation workers signed a petition urging the Hong Kong government to prosecute the attackers.
The Flight Attendants’ Union for Hong Kong’s main carrier Cathay Pacific (0293.HK) had earlier urged its members to “stand up for our human rights and be connected with the rest of the HongKongers” on its Facebook page.
“United Hong Kong Stands!” it added.
An investment banker at a U.S. bank told Reuters he had rescheduled his flight from Hong Kong to Beijing to another day, over concerns flights possibly being grounded should the protest escalate.
Additional reporting by Julie Zhu and Clare Jim in Hong Kong, Cate Cadell and John Geddie in Singapore; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie