Medical staffs carry a detained man, who protesters claimed was a police officer from mainland China, during a demonstration at the Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. Riot police clashed with pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong's airport late Tuesday night, a chaotic end to a second day of demonstrations that caused mass flight cancellations at the Chinese city's busy transport hub. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Chaos paralyzes Hong Kong airport
02:31 - Source: CNN
Hong Kong CNN  — 

In recent weeks, Hong Kong’s protests have been characterized by tear gas and angry confrontations. But it wasn’t always like this.

In March, when residents began protesting against a controversial bill that would enable China to extradite fugitives from the city, the weekend rallies were relatively small and peaceful.

However, since the start of June, protesters and police have clashed on multiple occasions. In August, a city-wide strike brought parts of the territory to a standstill, and almost 1,000 flights were canceled as protesters occupied the airport for two days.

Here’s how peaceful demonstrations against an extradition bill have grown into a large, occasionally volatile pro-democracy movement.

Protesters occupy the departure hall of the Hong Kong International Airport during a demonstration on August 12, 2019.

A sea of white

The Hong Kong government proposed the extradition bill earlier this year to close what it said was a loophole that prevented alleged criminals from being extradited to Hong Kong from other Chinese territories, including Macao and Taiwan.

Lawyers, pro-democracy activists and the business community quickly denounced the bill, and it even provoked scuffles between Hong Kong lawmakers in the city’s main government building, known as the Legislative Council, during an early debate.

But it wasn’t until June that the anti-extradition protests kicked off in earnest.

On June 9, days before the bill was due to have its second reading, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Hong Kong’s central streets. There were families, young people, and elderly, many wearing white to represent justice.

Organizers estimated the crowd size to be more than 1 million, while police said put the number at 240,000.

Some thought the impressive turn-out – Hong Kong’s biggest demonstration in at least a decade – would force the government to back down. But the following day, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said she was sticking by her controversial bill.

Protesters march on a street during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal on June 9, 2019.

The first occupation

Frustrated that the government wasn’t listening, protesters began gathering around the Legislative Council on June 11, the night before the bill was set to have its second reading.

The following day, tens of thousands of protesters joined the occupation on the streets outside the governmental complex, hoping to block lawmakers from being able to debate the bill. This time, they wore black – and they were prepared for a face-off.

The vast majority were young, and many came with umbrellas, hardhats and face masks.

They built barricades, completely closing off roads to traffic. With the authorities caught on the back foot, the Legislative Council meeting was rescheduled.

To some, the occupation – which began peacefully – brought back memories of Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement, when pro democracy protesters occupied parts of the city for 79 days. “At the end of the Umbrella Movement we said we would be back,” said lawmaker Claudia Mo. “And now, we are back!”

As the afternoon wore on, the protest became tense. Police called on protesters to disperse – but more and more continued to arrive.

Starting from mid-afternoon, police fired rounds of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and bean bags – and at least 81 people were injured.

A protester douses a tear gas canister with water outside the Legislative Council during a protest against a proposed extradition law in Hong Kong, China.

The 2 million march

Three days later, Lam backed down and suspended the controversial extradition bill. But if she thought that would stop the protests, she was wrong.

On June 16, even more people flooded Hong Kong’s city streets, spilling over the planned route and at least three additional streets on either side. Overhead photos showed a far larger crowd than the previous weekend’s march, or a march in 2003, which had been the city’s largest protest since the former British colony came under Chinese rule in 1997.

Organizers estimated that around 2 million had taken part – just over a quarter of the city’s population of 7.4 million. Police said 338,000 people had followed the original protest route.

The protesters demanded that the bill be withdrawn – not just suspended. But they were also angry about other things too: The alleged police brutality on June 12, and the death of a protester in an apparent suicide the day before.

Protesters displaying placards during a march on June 12, 2019.

A government break-in

Marches and occupations continued throughout June, but the next turning point came on July 1, the anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to China which has always been marked by pro-democracy demonstrations.

Dissent started early in the day. Protesters arrived on the streets in the early hours, and clashed with police as they tried to prevent the annual flag raising ceremony from taking place.

That afternoon, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully through central Hong Kong. But this time, the demonstrators were split. As peaceful protesters marched, hundreds of masked, mainly young demonstrators attempted to break into the Legislative Council building.

At night, more radical protesters stormed the building and occupied it for hours, leaving a trail o