Hong Kong on brink of no return as protests continue but airport reopens

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Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam defended police actions after protesters prompted an airport shutdown with calls to investigate alleged police brutality.

At one of the world’s busiest airports, airlines were checking in passengers for new flights and for those unable to leave on Monday when 200 flights were cancelled because thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators had packed into the airport’s main terminal.

Protesters have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Ms Lam’s administration to respond to their demands.

No new violence was reported, although the city is on edge after more than two months of near-daily and increasingly bloody confrontations between protesters and police.

Ms Lam told reporters 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’.

She said: ‘After the violence has been stopped, and the chaotic situation that we are seeing could subside, 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.

Software engineer Joydeep Chakravarti, whose connecting flight to San Francisco was cancelled late on Monday, was among those caught up in disruption following the protests and expressed frustration that he was told to leave the airport when he wanted to stay inside the terminal.

Mr Chakravarti, who had a carry-on bag with laptop, charger and an extra shirt while the rest of his luggage was already checked in on his Singapore Airlines flight said: ‘I don’t know what’s out there, so I don’t want to leave. I didn’t make any plans for Hong Kong.’

A massive traffic jam soon formed on the highway leading back to Hong Kong’s city centre. Some protesters were seen walking toward the airport amid the stifling heat.

The demonstrations that have drawn more than one million people at times call for democratic reforms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory and an independent inquiry into police conduct, with both protesters and police adopting ever-more extreme tactics.

On Monday, the central government in Beijing ominously characterised the protest movement as something approaching ‘terrorism’ that posed an ‘existential threat’ to the population.

Beijing tends to define terrorism broadly, including nonviolent movements opposing government policies on the environment or Tibet.

Hong Kong was promised certain democratic rights when China took over the then-British colony in 1997, but in recent years, some have accused Beijing of steadily eroding their freedoms.

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