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Hong Kong hit by another weekend of protests

Reuters HONG KONG | Updated on August 10, 2019 Published on August 10, 2019

Anti-extradition bill demonstrators cover their eyes during a protest at the arrival hall of Hong Kong Airport   -  REUTERS

Hong Kong began another volatile weekend on Saturday, with anti-government protests taking place across the city, including one at the international airport for a second day.

Increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious political crisis for decades, posing a serious challenge to the central government in Beijing.

Protesters arrived back at Hong Kong's airport, a day after a peaceful gathering there of about 1,000 activists. Neither protest disrupted flights.

Hundreds of activists occupied the arrivals hall on Saturday, some of them sitting on the floor drawing protest posters, while others politely greeted arriving passengers.

In the morning, in two separate protests, small groups of elderly Hong Kongers and families marched near the financial centre's business district. Both marches were peaceful.

About a thousand protesters also gathered later in the day in Tai Po, a town in the north of the territory.

Leung Wai Man, a housewife in her 60s, said she had been motivated to march in Tai Po because she was angry about what she saw as the violent response by police at some protests.

“We are very angry about the police arresting our teenagers,” she said. She said she was worried about escalating violence, but added that “the protesters were just trying to protect themselves against police violence.”

Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam said on Friday the economy was being undermined by the protests, which began in June.

China, meanwhile, demanded that the city's flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways suspend staff involved in the demonstrations. One of its pilots was arrested last week.

Huarong International, the investment arm in Hong Kong of China Huarong Asset Management Co, has instructed staff not to fly Cathay Pacific if there are other options, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters and confirmed by a source at the company.

Lam's warning about the economy and China's targeting of a key Hong Kong business mark a toughening stance by authorities as they grapple with Hong Kong's deepest crisis in decades.

Young people have been at the forefront of the protests, worried about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong by China but also concerned with issues such as wealth disparities in the city.

However, older people and parents have also been appearing at the protests.

“There are clashes in the recent protests and many parents are worried,” said Fion Yim, 35, representative of the organising committee for what was billed as the family protest.

“The freedom to protect our children is very important. We hope to provide a safer place for parents and their kids to participate in rallies, and to voice their concerns.”

The protests began after Hong Kong's government tried introducing an extradition bill that would have allowed defendants to be sent to mainland China for trial.

The bill has been suspended, but protesters have stepped up their demands and are now calling for greater democracy and Lam's resignation.

The protests have been condemned by the central government in Beijing. China has also accused foreign powers of fuelling the unrest.

Hong Kong was guaranteed freedoms not granted in mainland China, including an independent judiciary, under a “one country, two systems” formula, when Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

On Friday, the U.S. State department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, said that Chinese media reports about a U.S. diplomat who met with Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders “have gone from irresponsible to dangerous” and must stop.

Ortagus earlier called China a “thuggish regime” for disclosing photographs and personal details of the diplomat.

More protests are planned for Sunday, including one in Sham Shui Po, a working class neighbourhood that has been the scene of violent confrontations between activists and police.

Published on August 10, 2019
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