Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Hong Kong airport cancels all flights as protesters flood terminals

More than 5,000 demonstrators occupied the airport, police said

Hong Kong airport authorities have cancelled all flights to and from the major travel hub on Monday after thousands of protesters entered the arrivals and departures halls to stage a demonstration.

"Other than the departure flights that have completed the check-in process and the arrival flights that are already heading to Hong Kong, all other flights have been cancelled for the rest of today," the airport authority said.

Local police estimated more than 5,000 demonstrators had gathered at the airport, the largest number yet in four days of sit-ins there. Many wore the all-black outfit that has become a staple of the pro-democracy protest movement, others wore eye patches in reference to a fellow protester who was allegedly hit in the eye with a police bean bag round.

Activists accuse the police of a heavy-handed response to protests, which accuse the Chinese government of eroding the freedoms of Hong Kong citizens.

The airport authority advised passengers to leave the terminal buildings before 6pm local time on Monday, sparking fears of police action to clear the demonstrators.

A police spokesman refused to rule out the use of tear gas against protesters remaining in the airport, with a spokesman saying they would "employ suitable means".

The airport is one of the world’s busiest, handling over 1,000 cargo and passenger flights per day to more than 200 destinations. Emirates runs four daily flights between Hong Kong and Dubai. Daily Etihad flights link Abu Dhabi to Hong Kong.

Etihad cancelled flight EY833 from Hong Kong International Airport to Abu Dhabi on Monday, advising passengers to call their customer contact centre or check the website or app for updates.

"We regret any inconvenience caused by this extended delay. The safety of our guests and crew is Etihad Airways’ highest priority," an Etihad spokesman told The National.

Protesters hope to attract international attention to their struggle by impacting such an important travel hub. Activists brought signs imploring stranded passengers to blame the government for the chaos. Other posters read: "We are not Chinese. We are Hong Kongers!"

They are demanding the resignation of the city's leader, Carrie Lam, and an independent investigation into the handling of the protests.

The developments marked yet another dramatic escalation in a 10-week crisis that has become the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of Hong Kong since the 1997 British handover.

Chinese authorities have criticised the protest movement, accusing some demonstrators of terrorism.

"Hong Kong's radical demonstrators have repeatedly used extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers, which already constitutes a serious violent crime, and also shows the first signs of terrorism emerging," said Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council.

"This wantonly tramples on Hong Kong's rule of law and social order."

As evening drew in on the city, those occupying the airport began to thin out, both walking and taking the airport express train back into central Hong Kong, reports said.

Airport authorities said they were hoping to resume flights from 6am local time on Tuesday.

Updated: August 12, 2019 04:14 PM

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