With tougher security, Hong Kong airport returns to normal after anti-government protests

Athena Chan

Hong Kong International Airport was back to normal on Thursday morning, two days after bosses there got a court injunction against unauthorised demonstrations.

The 70 or so protesters at the site the previous evening were nowhere to be seen, as their placards and leaflets were either removed or being cleared away.

On Tuesday, violent clashes between police and protesters at the airport – one of the world’s busiest – brought the city’s air traffic to a halt. Demonstrators had been there since Friday, in an action which escalated gradually.

During the fracas, protesters tied up, beat and tormented two mainland Chinese men, one of them a journalist, whom they accused of being spies. A police officer was beaten and had his baton snatched by protesters, prompting him to draw his gun.

Protesters apologised for the disruption, which caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights. The statement from “a group of fellow Hongkongers longing for freedom and democracy” said they felt helpless regarding what they called an overreaction by some of their comrades, without referring to specific incidents.

Since then, the Airport Authority had stepped up security. Passengers had to show travel documents and a boarding pass valid within 24 hours to enter the complex, while staff and reporters had to show identification.

About 15 police officers with riot gear were at the site, guarding mainly the entrances from the railway station and bus terminal. Two groups of private security guards were gathered near the entrance of the departure hall, on the seventh floor.

A line of white barriers surrounded the entrance on the ground level, where buses dropped off passengers. They were tied to multiple sandbags, protecting the glass door at the entrance.

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Some access paths to public transport were closed for more effective crowd control. For example, passengers were not allowed to enter the Airport Express train from the entrance near arrival hall A. They had to go further along, to the entrance near arrival hall B, to get in.

A worker at Tai Hing restaurant at the airport said she forgot her ID and was asked to call her colleagues to pick her up at the entrance.

Late on Tuesday night, the authority got an interim injunction against anyone interfering with the proper use of the airport, and set up designated protest areas in the arrivals hall.

Although, according to ground staff, people without a valid boarding pass were not allowed to enter the airport, dozens of people were waiting in the two arrival halls. A Mrs Chiu, who went to pick up her son at about 8am, said she was able to get in after showing a copy of her son’s ID card and his boarding pass on her phone.

It is reasonable to fight back when you are attacked. [Protesters] are under a lot of pressure. We don’t blame them

Carmen Cheung, traveller

There was a longer-than-usual queue for security. A female passenger, who declined to be named, was waiting in line with her son. She had checked in earlier than usual for fear protesters would block her from boarding.

Housewife Carmen Cheung and her husband Tony Ng, who works in the car parts industry, planned to fly to Los Angeles for a family trip with their two daughters at midday on Thursday. As of 10.20am they did not know whether their flight would go ahead as planned.

But they had agreed for the previous week “not to blame the protesters, even if the journey is affected”.

“I accept the apology from the protesters, because the reasons behind the clashes should date back to June 9,” said Cheung, 45, referring to the day protesters first marched en masse against the now-shelved extradition legislation which sparked the unrest.

The airport was getting back to normal on Thursday morning. Photo: Dickson Lee

“It is reasonable to fight back when you are attacked. They are under a lot of pressure. We don’t blame them.”

Ng, 50, added: “If we blame someone, it is the government. Until now, [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her government still haven’t retracted the bill.”

But Ambrose Lau, who worked in a drink shop at the airport, said the apology was necessary. “Because the act of attacking the mainland journalist disrespected human rights,” the 21-year-old said. “Also, [blocking the departure hall] affected foreign travellers. An apology was necessary.”

Lau’s colleague, 20-year-old Leslie Kwong, said business was up during the airport protests. The sales of drinks on each day from Friday to Tuesday were up by up to 50 per cent, he said, even though they had to close in advance on Monday and Tuesday.

A total of 18 flights scheduled for between 7.40am and 7.45pm on Thursday were cancelled – down from hundreds over the previous week – and it was unclear if any of the cancellations were protest-related.

This article With tougher security, Hong Kong airport returns to normal after anti-government protests first appeared on South China Morning Post

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