Hong Kong airport reopens amid warnings over pro-democracy protests

PROTESTERS: Armed police patrol the departure hall of the airport in Hong Kong after previous night's clashes with protesters, China Aug. 14, 2019. Thomas Peter/Reuters

HONG KONG - Hong Kong’s airport resumed operations on Wednesday, rescheduling hundreds of flights that had been disrupted over the past two days as protesters clashed with riot police in a deepening crisis in the Chinese-controlled city.

Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters, angered by a perceived erosion of freedoms, have plunged the Asian financial hub into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

About 30 protesters remained at the airport early on Wednesday while workers scrubbed it clean of blood and debris from overnight. Check-in counters reopened to queues of hundreds of weary travelers who had waited overnight for their flights.

Police condemned violent acts by protesters overnight and said on Wednesday a large group had “harassed and assaulted a visitor and a journalist.” Some protesters said they believed one of those men was an undercover Chinese agent and that another was a reporter from China’s Global Times newspaper.

Five people were detained in the latest disturbances, police said, bringing the number of those arrested since the protests began in June to more than 600.

Operations at the city’s international airport were seriously disrupted as riot police used pepper spray to disperse thousands of black-clad protesters.

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump said the Chinese government was moving troops to the border with Hong Kong and urged calm.

Trump described events in Hong Kong as tricky but hoped it would work out for everybody, including China, and “for liberty” without anyone getting hurt or killed.

The Hang Seng stock index fell to a seven-month low on Tuesday and embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the city had been pushed into a state of “panic and chaos.”

China condemned some protesters for using dangerous tools to attack police, saying the clashes showed “sprouts of terrorism.” The protests represent one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

In another potentially ominous warning, China’s official People’s Daily said in a front-page commentary on Wednesday that using the “sword of the law to stop violence and restore order is overwhelmingly the most important and urgent task for Hong Kong.”

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong when it returned to China in 1997.

The protests began in opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects for trial in mainland China but have swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said on Wednesday it had obtained an interim injunction to stop people from obstructing airport operations. It said protesters could only demonstrate in designated areas.

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