Hundreds of flights out of Hong Kong have been cancelled and passengers stranded, a day after one of the world’s busiest airports shut down in a dramatic response to mass demonstrations.
Flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it had scrapped more than 200 flights to and from the airport on Tuesday, and Qantas reported a small number of cancellations as the airport warned of changes to flights. Large-scale delays are expected and travellers have been urged to check with their airline before they travel.
After demonstrators flooded the city’s terminals on Monday, the airport halted flights although the exact trigger was not clear as protesters have peacefully occupied the arrivals hall for the past five days.
Prime ministers including Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Australia’s Scott Morrison have voiced their concern at the handling of the unprecedented political crisis in the wake of the latest airport protest.
Morrison rejected China’s description of the protesters as “terrorists”, saying: “That is certainly not the rhetoric that I would use to describe those events.” He called for calm and for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to listen to protesters’ concerns about a “very very serious” situation.
Earlier, Trudeau said he was extremely concerned about events in Hong Kong, which has a large Canadian population, and urged Chinese authorities to handle the protests there with tact.
“We see the need for de-escalation of tensions, we need to see the local authorities listening to the very serious concerns brought forward by Chinese citizens,” said Trudeau, whose country is locked in a trade and diplomatic dispute with Beijing. “We are calling for peace, for order, for dialogue … we certainly call on China to be very careful and very respectful in how it deals with people who have legitimate concerns in Hong Kong,” Trudeau told a televised news conference in Toronto.
A senior official in the administration of Donald Trump urged “all sides” to avoid violence in Hong Kong. “Societies are best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely and peacefully expressed,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
The unprecedented cancellation of all flights followed the fourth consecutive day of protests at the airport and amid increasingly threatening statements from Beijing. A Chinese official said “terrorism” was emerging in the city, while in Hong Kong authorities demonstrated water cannon for use in crowd control.
The protests are in their 10th week with confrontations between demonstrators and police growing more violent. Rights groups and democracy activists have accused police of using increasingly excessive force. At least 40 people were treated in hospital after clashes on Sunday, including a woman who was reportedly hit with a beanbag round and could lose an eye.
On Monday during a heated three-hour media conference, police deputy commissioner Tang Ping-keung said there was no proof she had been shot by police.
Following outcry over the use of police dressed at protesters, Tang admitted that police had dressed as “different characters”, Hong Kong Free Press reported. He did not say how many were involved in Sunday’s protests. “We used decoy operatives … against those violent rioters who use deadly force, such as petrol bombs,” Tang was quoted as saying, likening the situation to drug busts. Since Friday 149 protesters have been arrested, aged between 15 and 53.
In Beijing authorities criticised protesters who threw petrol bombs at police officers, linking them to “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.”
Later on Monday two state media outlets ran videos showing armoured personnel and troop carriers purportedly driving to Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.
A commentary early on Tuesday in China’s official Xinhua news agency spoke of “black-clad mobsters” and said Hong Kong‘s future was at a “critical juncture”.
Trudeau’s comments were the most expansive yet by a senior Canadian official about anti-government protests that have swept Hong Kong over the past two months. China said on Monday the demonstrations had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism”.
Trudeau also said he was focused on the need to protect Canada’s interests in Hong Kong, which is home to about 300,000 Canadian citizens.
His comments are unlikely to improve already poor relations between Ottawa and Beijing, which are embroiled in a trade and diplomatic dispute over Canada’s arrest of a senior Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, on a US warrant in 2018.