Hongkong protesters occupied nearly every inch of the city-state's airport on Monday after a weekend of violent clashes with the police, forcing Hong Kong's authorities to cancel all flights that day as Beijing made its frustration known by linking the demonstrations to "terrorism," feeding fears of a military crackdown.
The mass sit-in led to the cancelation of more than 130 flights departing Monday afternoon and evening. At the peak of the demonstrations, thousands of protesters crowded the international hub airport, carrying posters and spray-painting slogans on the airport walls as they tried to paralyze the airports and make their case to foreigners visiting the city-state. By 8 p.m. the number of protesters had dwindled to roughly a few hundred.
The scene at Hong Kong’s airport, where thousands of protesters have flooded the terminal. The airport took the rare step of canceling all flights and shutting down. pic.twitter.com/BV559oF5NU— Javier C. Hernández (@HernandezJavier) August 12, 2019
Hong Kong's airport is the eighth busiest airport in the world with nearly 75 million passengers passing through its facilities every year. The flight cancelations left many visitors stranded in the airport, surrounded by scores of protesters. Australia's consulate sent staff to help its citizens safely leave the airport and the U.S. consulate urged Americans to stay away from the protests.
At the airport, the protesters emphasized their opposition to police brutality, rallying around images of a bloodied medic who reportedly lost her eyes this weekend after a tear gas round hit her face. "Eye for an eye," read many placards and spray-painted slogans.
"An eye for an eye" - a foreign traveller stuck outside the departure gates, headed for mainland China, said #antielab protesters' slogan and strategy were "completely wrong". pic.twitter.com/7jwCzpPeDO— Lok. (@sumlokkei) August 12, 2019
This is not the first time protesters showed up at the airport, although never to this scale. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than 200 flights had been canceled last week due to city-wide protests.
The local police adopted a more aggressive approach to deal with the protests in the last few days, such as chasing after fleeing protesters in a claustrophobic subway corridor and ambushing demonstrators while disguising themselves as protesters. Protesters, for their part, have taken to lighting fires on roads and throwing bricks and molotov cocktail at police.
Hong Kong police have repeatedly promised to look into the reports of police brutality. However, the Hong Kong government has refused protesters' demands for an independent inquiry into the police actions.
The protests, which now enters its 10th consecutive week, have irritated Beijing. The central government now said the protesters are engaged in terrorist activities, the strongest condemnation that they have issued yet.
"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," Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said at a press briefing, according to BBC.
The Hong Kong protests started in June in response to the introduction of a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed Hongkongers to be trialed in mainland china, eroding the city-state's legal and political independence according to critics. After more than two million people marched across the street, Hong Kong's government has indefinitely suspended consideration for the bill but has not formally withdrawn it.
The protests have since then grown to encompass a wide range of grievances about the future of Hong Kong. The demonstrators now have a set of five demands, which call for a wide range of reforms, including the introduction of universal suffrage system to Hong Kong governance.