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Leader of Hong Kong warns city is on ‘path of no return’

Flights have resumed at the city’s airport after protesters forced the closure of the main terminal.

Protests have continued at the airport (Vincent Thian/AP)
Protests have continued at the airport (Vincent Thian/AP)

By Yanan Wang and Katie Tam, Associated Press

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the ongoing instability, chaos and violence from pro-democracy protests have placed the city on a “path of no return.”

Flights resumed at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday, although more than 100 remained cancelled a day after protesters forced one of the world’s busiest transport hubs to shut down to highlight their calls for an independent inquiry into alleged police abuse.

A few thousand protesters gathered at the airport for a fifth day after they forced the shutdown of the main terminal on Monday, leading to the cancellation of more than 200 flights.

After filling up the arrivals hall, demonstrators began moving to the departures area, despite increased security measures designed to keep them out. The black-clad protesters held up signs to appeal to travellers from mainland China and other parts of the world reading: “Democracy is a good thing”.

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A traveller leans on her bag while browsing her smartphone at the departure hall of the Hong Kong International airport (Vincent Thian/AP)

The central government in Beijing characterised the protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” that posed an “existential threat” to local citizens.

Meanwhile, paramilitary police have been assembling across the border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises in what some saw as a threat to increase force brought against the mostly young protesters who have turned out in their thousands over the past 10 weeks.

The demonstrators have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Ms Lam’s administration to respond to their demands, including that she step down and entirely scrap legislation that could have seen criminal suspects sent to mainland China to face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.

While Beijing tends to define terrorism broadly, extending it especially to non-violent movements opposing government policies in minority regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, the government’s usage of the term in relation to Hong Kong raised the prospect of greater violence and the possible suspension of legal rights for those detained.

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Protesters surround banners that read: “Those on the street today are all warriors!” (Vincent Thian/AP)

Demonstrators have in recent days focused on their demand for an independent inquiry into what they call the police’s abuse of power and negligence. That followed reports and circulating video footage of violent arrests and injuries sustained by protesters.

Some protesters have thrown bricks, eggs and flaming objects at police stations and police said they arrested another 149 demonstrators over the weekend, bringing the total to more than 700 since early June. Police say several officers have suffered burns, bruises and eye damage inflicted by protesters.

Ms Lam told reporters on Tuesday that dialogue would only begin when the violence stopped. She reiterated her support for the police and said they have had to make on-the-spot decisions under difficult circumstances, using “the lowest level of force”.

“After the violence has been stopped, and the chaotic situation that we are seeing could subside,” Ms Lam said, “I as the chief executive will be responsible to rebuild Hong Kong’s economy … to help Hong Kong to move on.”

She did not elaborate on what steps her government will take toward reconciliation.
After two months, the protests have become increasingly divisive and prompted clashes across the city.

Hong Kong was promised democratic rights not enjoyed in Communist Party-ruled mainland China when Beijing took over what had been a British colony in 1997, but some have accused Beijing of steadily eroding their freedoms.

Those doubts are fuelling the protests, which build on a previous opposition movement that shut down much of the city for seven weeks in 2014 that eventually fizzled out and whose leaders have been imprisoned.

PA

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