Hong Kong airport reopens as order to remove protesters looms

City faces more unrest as aviation authorities obtain court permission to clear terminal of demonstrators.

Hong Kong airport
Two days of demonstrations have caused mass flight cancellations on Monday and Tuesday [Philip Fong/AFP]

Hong Kong airport reopened on Wednesday after fierce clashes overnight, but the turmoil may be far from over following reports that aviation authorities have obtained a court order to remove protesters from the terminal, setting up a possible showdown with demonstrators later in the day.

After the late-night scuffle that left several people injured, most of the protesters and police eventually cleared the terminal, and as of early Wednesday, the operation at the airport was back to normal, according to Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdelhamid, who was reporting from the airport.

“We’ve seen some of the employees come back to their counters, and some of the stranded passengers trying to figure out when they will be able to catch their flights,” she said. “It’s not clear whether the protesters will come back tomorrow.”

Few protesters remained at the airport early on Wednesday.

As this developed, Hong Kong’s Airport Authority confirmed on on Wednesday it had obtained an interim injunction to restrain people from “unlawfully and wilfully obstructing” operations.

“Persons are also restrained from attending or participating in any demonstration or protest or public order event in the airport other than in the area designated by the airport authority,” it said.

It was unclear when the order will be implemented by the police.

The two days of demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday have caused mass flight cancellations and triggered clashes between demonstrators and police.

The unrest at the airport started on Tuesday afternoon, when aviation authorities cancelled hundreds of flights for the second day in a row.

Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators had returned to the terminal, to express their outrage over what they call is increasing police brutality.

But some demonstrators were also accused of taking the law into their own hands as they detained a man they suspected as an undercover officer from mainland China, and another man identified as a journalist for a state-owned Chinese media.

Hong Kong protest
The two days of mass flight cancellations have raised the stakes for the financial hub [Manan Vatsyayana/AFP]

Police responded by making arrests and firing pepper spray at the protesters. One police officer was captured on video drawing his gun at protesters after they attacked him for trying to detain an unarmed woman and pinning her on the ground. Other officers were also seen beating the protesters.

On Wednesday, China’s main authority in Hong Kong and Macao denounced the protesters for “terrorist-like” acts.

“We express the strongest condemnation of these terrorist-like actions,” said Xu Luying, spokeswoman at the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs of the State Council, who called the two men “mainland China compatriots.”

Xu said the “extremely abominable violent crime must be severely punished according to the law”. 

‘Controlling Hong Kong’

Hong Kong’s 10-week political crisis, which has seen millions of people take to the streets calling for a halt to sliding freedoms, was already the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of the semi-autonomous city since its 1997 handover from Britain.

The two days of mass flight cancellations at one of the world’s busiest airports have further raised the stakes for the financial hub.

Beijing is sending increasingly ominous signals that the unrest must end, with state-run media showing videos of security forces gathering across the border.

US President Donald Trump called for calm, saying his intelligence had confirmed Chinese troop movements towards the Hong Kong border.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Gordon Chang, a China expert, said that one way for China to diffuse the situation is to force the resignation of Carrie Lam, the chief executive of the city.

“But they won’t do that, because they don’t want the protesters to have a victory,” Chang said. “If she leaves, she would trigger renewed calls for universal suffrage.”

“What Beijing needs to do is to stop doing what it is doing, which is encroaching on the autonomy of the Hong Kong government.

“Beijing has a view that it needs to control Hong Kong. That view gets in the way of taking those steps and making compromises that would calm the situation.”

The protests in Hong Kong began in opposition to a bill that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland, but it quickly evolved into a broader call for more freedom and democracy in the semi-autonomous territory.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies