Tue. 8:49 a.m.: Flights out of Hong Kong canceled again amid protests

Airport security personnel stand guard Tuesday as travelers walk past protesters holding a sit-in rally at the departure gate of the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong. Protesters clogged the departure area at Hong Kong's reopened airport today, a day after they forced one of the world's busiest transport hubs to shut down entirely amid their calls for an independent inquiry into alleged police abuse. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

HONG KONG (AP) — Protesters severely crippled operations at Hong Kong’s international airport for a second day today, forcing authorities to cancel all remaining flights out of the city after demonstrators took over the terminals as part of their push for democratic reforms.

After a brief respite early today during which flights were able to take off and land, the airport authority announced check-in services for departing flights were suspended as of 4:30 p.m. Departing flights that had completed the process would continue to operate.

It said it did not expect arriving flights to be affected, though dozens were already canceled. The authority advised people not to come to the airport, one of the world’s busiest transport hubs.

On Monday, more than 200 flights were canceled and the airport was effectively shut down with no flights taking off or landing.

Passengers have been forced to seek accommodation in the city while airlines struggle to find other ways to get them to their destinations.

The airport disruptions are an escalation of a summer of demonstrations aimed at what many Hong Kong residents see as an increasing erosion of the freedoms they were promised in 1997 when Communist Party-ruled mainland China took over what had been a British colony.

Those doubts are fueling the protests, which build on a previous opposition movement that shut down much of the city for seven weeks in 2014. That movement eventually fizzled out and its leaders have been jailed on public disturbance charges.

The central government in Beijing has ominously characterized the current protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” that poses an “existential threat” to the local citizenry.

While Beijing tends to define terrorism broadly, extending it especially to nonviolent movements opposing government policies in minority regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, the government’s usage of the term in relation to Hong Kong raised the prospect of greater violence and the possible suspension of legal rights for those detained.

Meanwhile, paramilitary police were assembling across the border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises which some saw as a threat to increase force against the mostly young protesters who have turned out in their thousands over the past 10 weeks.

Police have arrested more than 700 protesters since early June and say they have infiltrated the ranks of the demonstrators, leading to concerns that officers were inciting violence. Scores of people have been, both protesters and police, including a woman reported to have had an eye ruptured by a beanbag round fired by police during clashes on Sunday.

Police said they are investigating the incident, which protesters have taken up as a rallying cry. Some of those joining in the airport occupation wore gauze bandages dyed with artificial blood over one eye.

The United Nations’ top human rights official condemned violence surrounding the protests and called on the authorities and protesters to settle their dispute peacefully.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, said her office had reviewed evidence that police are using “less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards.” That includes firing tear gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individual protesters, “creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury,” Colville said in a statement today.

The commissioner urged both sides to engage in “open and inclusive dialogue,” which is the “only sure way to achieve long-term political stability,” it said.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the instability, chaos and violence have placed the city on a “path of no return.”

The demonstrators have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Lam’s administration to respond to their demands, including that she step down and entirely scrap proposed legislation under which some suspects could be sent to mainland China, where critics say they could face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.

Lam has rejected all calls for dialogue, part of what analysts say is a strategy to wear down the opposition through police action while prompting it to take more violent and extreme actions that will turn the Hong Kong public against the protest movement. At the airport, protesters discussed among themselves whether they should prevent all would-be travelers from entering, with some saying their presence there was meaningless unless they blocked all access to the facilities.

Demonstrators have in recent days focused on their demand for an independent inquiry into what they call the police’s abuse of power and negligence. That followed reports and circulating video footage of violent arrests and injuries sustained by protesters.

Some protesters have thrown bricks, eggs and flaming objects at police stations. Police say several officers have suffered burns, bruises and eye damage inflicted by protesters.

Lam told reporters today that dialogue would only begin when the violence stopped. She reiterated her support for the police and said they have had to make on-the-spot decisions under difficult circumstances, using “the lowest level of force.”

“After the violence has been stopped, and the chaotic situation that we are seeing could subside,” Lam said. “I as the chief executive will be responsible to rebuild Hong Kong’s economy … to help Hong Kong to move on.”

She did not elaborate on what steps her government will take toward reconciliation. After two months, the protests have become increasingly divisive and prompted clashes across the city.

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