Hong Kong thwarts airport protest, but battles continue

International

Firefighters put out fire by protesters during a protest in Mong Kok, in Hong Kong on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. The ratings agency Fitch on Friday cut Hong Kong’s credit rating and warned that conflict with anti-government protesters was hurting the image of its business climate. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police thwarted another disruption at the airport by pro-democracy activists but had to battle protesters at subway stations on Saturday, as the months-long unrest showed no signs of abating even after the government offered a concession days earlier.

Police mounted road checks and inspected passengers on trains and buses heading to the airport to weed out protesters. An Associated Press journalist at an area near the airport witnessed at least two bus passengers being handcuffed and taken away after police found face masks in their bags.

The express train service to the airport was limited, running to and from downtown Hong Kong but skipping all stations in between. Only people with plane tickets were allowed to enter the airport terminals, and those milling around an adjoining bus terminal were chased off.

Several hundred angry protesters, many in masks, converged at a subway station in the Tung Chung area adjacent to the airport. They chanted slogans and called police “murderers” amid widespread anger over alleged brutality against demonstrators during three months of protests in the city that have become increasingly violent.

Shops were shuttered and the station was shut down in the evening as the mood grew tense. Protesters spilled onto the street after riot police with batons confronted them, with several people detained.

Hong Kong’s airport, the world’s eighth busiest, has been a frequent target during a summer of protests sparked by an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. Many saw the bill as a glaring example of the Chinese territory’s eroding autonomy since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced Wednesday that her government would withdraw the bill, but that failed to appease protesters who have expanded their goals to include other issues.

The airport rail link was suspended last weekend after protesters threw objects on the track, blocked roads near the airport and damaged a nearby subway station. Last month, the airport was shut down for two days after protesters occupied the terminals, leading to violent clashes.

Airport operations ran normally Saturday following the security operation, although some travelers complained they had to get to the airport early.

Susan Reigel, from Denver, Colorado, said she arrived at the airport eight hours ahead of her flight back to the U.S.

“I don’t really have a feeling regarding the protests,” said Reigel, who spent three days in Hong Kong after a trip to mainland China. “It’s just been a little bit of an inconvenience.”

Another traveler at the airport, Jens Schlimmer of Germany, expressed support for protesters fighting for their rights, saying he would do the same if it was his country.

Apart from the Tung Chung subway stop, dozens of youths also rallied at malls belonging to rail link operator MTR Corp., accusing it of helping police during a violent raid at the Prince Edward subway station on Aug. 31.

MTR shut down the Prince Edward station later Saturday after some protesters started gathering again. They later placed white flowers and burned paper offerings at the station’s exit as a sign of mourning.

The station has been a focus this past week for protesters, who want the rail operator to release security camera footage to substantiate rumors that some people died during the police raid.

Police reiterated in a statement Saturday that there had been no deaths since the protests began in early June. It said online rumors of deaths were malicious and aimed at sowing deeper division in society.

As night fell, protesters outside the Prince Edward subway station turned their focus for a second straight night to the police station next to it. They pointed laser beams at officers and later set fire to a pile of plastic foam boxes and other debris across the road. Riot police chased them and were seen using pepper spray, but protesters kept regrouping in familiar cat-and-mouse battles. Several people were caught.

Late Friday, police fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets while protesters set off street fires, smashed traffic lights and vandalized three subway stations. Graffiti on walls read “Boycott China” and “Liberty or death.”

The persistent violence during the protests has hurt Hong Kong’s economy and sparked fears of a Chinese military intervention. Chinese officials have warned that Beijing will “not sit idly by” if the situation worsens.

Apart from the extradition bill’s withdrawal, protesters also have demanded an independent investigation into accusations of police brutality, the unconditional release of those detained during the demonstrations, no more labeling of the protests as riots and direct elections of Hong Kong’s leaders.

Lam, the Hong Kong leader, has rejected those demands.

The protests show no signs of receding, with plans to march to the U.S. Embassy on Sunday to drum up international support.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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