Violent protests are pushing Hong Kong “to the brink of no return,” the city’s leader warned Tuesday, as airport protests continued to disrupt flights in and out of the Asian financial hub.
In her first public appearance since demonstrators succeeded in shutting down the city’s international airport on Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said it could take a “long time for Hong Kong to recover,” but she insisted that the authorities were still capable of managing the situation.
“The only thing we have to do is to go against violence, and rebuild the city,” said Lam.
By Tuesday afternoon, thousands of protesters were once again occupying Hong Kong’s airport, where they sang, chanted and waved placards. A day before hundreds of passengers were left stranded after all departing flights and more than 70 arriving flights were canceled Monday, amid chaotic scenes inside the airport as thousands of demonstrators descended on the main terminal.
According to the airport’s website, a handful of flights departed after midnight.
An airport spokesperson said flights would resume at 6 a.m. local time on Tuesday, although a number of incoming and outgoing flights are still listed as canceled on the airport website. According to CNN’s count, there were still 150 outgoing flights and 147 incoming flights canceled from 7 a.m. through midnight Tuesday.
Demonstrations initially kicked off at the airport on Friday, with a small number continuing protesting over the weekend. Monday’s mass gathering at the airport was sparked by widespread allegations of police violence during protests on Sunday.
At a sometimes rowdy press conference on Tuesday morning, Lam said the city had experienced “damage” caused by the “illegal activities” of protesters who “did not have the law in mind.”
“Riot activities (have) pushed Hong Kong to the brink of no return,” said Lam. She said protesters had attacked “police officers with malice intention” and insisted “police are an important defense of Hong Kong.”
Lam’s comments come as protest organizers called on supporters to return to the airport Tuesday, for what would be the fifth consecutive day of demonstrations at the aviation hub.
“We stayed here overnight because we want to show people it’s safe in the airport,” said one 23-year-old protester, Tuesday, one of around 30 demonstrators who had stayed in the arrivals hall overnight.
“We are expecting more people to join in in the afternoon and with enough people, we hope to paralyze the airport once again like we did yesterday,” added the protester, who would only give his first name, Pang.
World transport hub grounded
Last year, Hong Kong’s airport handled 74.7 million passengers – an average of about 205,000 per day. But on Monday, the airport was brought to a standstill as protesters occupied parts of the airport.
Confused tourists were left unsure of what was happening as shops, restaurants and check-in counters closed. Trains and buses heading into the city were packed with people, and the one available information desk was helmed by frazzled looking staff.
Some travelers were pragmatic about the delays. Hayden Smyth, a tourist from Australia, said it was a “bit of a different welcome than I’m used to.”
But others were frustrated by the cancellations. “We love Hong Kong but it does change our whole perspective,” said Australian Kim Macaranas, whose flight was canceled Monday. “I understand the protests but this is not helping tourism.”
On Tuesday morning, disagreements broke out at the airport. Two men – one of whom was wearing a cap emblazoned with a Chinese flag – were seen arguing with protesters in the arrivals hall, before being ushered away by security as protesters cheered. Another passenger – who appeared to be from mainland China – told protesters that they were causing inconvenience for others.
Why Hong Kong is protesting
Hong Kong’s protest movement kicked off in earnest in June, sparked by a bill that would allow extradition to China.
Since then, the protests have expanded into something bigger, with protesters now demanding greater democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality. The protest movement – that on Sunday passed its 10th straight weekend of demonstrations – has seen protesters and police clash numerous times, with police firing multiple rounds of tear gas.
Beijing, meanwhile, has criticized the actions of the protesters. On Monday, a top Chinese official said the protests “had begun to show signs of terrorism.”
CNN’s Jadyn Shum, Angus Watson, Ben Westcott, James Griffiths, Jessie Yeung and Helen Regan contributed to this story.