United cancels Guam Hong Kong flight over protest

GROUNDED: Anti-extradition bill protesters rally at the departure hall of Hong Kong airport in Hong Kong, China Aug. 12, 2019. Flights were grounded because of the protest. Thomas Peters/Reuters

HONG KONG - Hong Kong’s airport reopened on Tuesday but its administrator warned that flight movements would still be affected, after China said widespread anti-government protests that halted flights a day earlier showed “sprouts of terrorism”.

Hong Kong’s airport halted flights on Monday, blaming demonstrators for the disruption, while China said the anti-government protests that have swept the city over the past two months had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism”.

The precise trigger for the airport’s closure was not clear, since protesters occupying the arrivals hall for four days have been peaceful. Most of them had left shortly after midnight, but around 50 remained, discussing their next move.

“This is about our freedom,” a 24-year-old protester wearing a mask, who gave his name only as Yu, told Reuters during the evening. “Why should we leave?”

Some Hong Kong legal experts say official descriptions of some protesters’ actions as terrorism could lead to the use of extensive anti-terror laws and powers against them.

China’s People’s Armed Police also assembled in the neighboring city of Shenzhen for exercises, the state-backed Global Times newspaper said. The Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said on the Twitter-like Weibo that the force can handle incidents including riots or terrorist attacks.

Hong Kongers responded by taking to the streets again.

Crowds picketed a police station, singing hymns. Hundreds of people returned to a subway station, where police had hit activists with batons, to protest against heavy-handed tactics.

The increasingly violent demonstrations have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.

“Hong Kong has come to a critical juncture,” said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang in Beijing.

“Protesters have been frequently using extremely dangerous tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging.”

The protests began in opposition to a bill allowing extraditions to the mainland for trial in Communist-controlled courts, but have widened to highlight other grievances, winning broad support.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.

Hong Kong is the world’s busiest air cargo port and the 8th busiest by passenger traffic, handling 73 million passengers a year. The airport has been filled with anti-government protesters for four days.

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