A police officer sprays pepper spray at anti-government protesters during clashes at the airport in Hong Kong, China, August 13 2019. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER
A police officer sprays pepper spray at anti-government protesters during clashes at the airport in Hong Kong, China, August 13 2019. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER

 Hong Kong — Police and protesters clashed at Hong Kong’s international airport on Tuesday evening after flights were disrupted for a second day and the political crisis in the former British colony deepened.

In the US,  President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the situation in Hong Kong was tricky, but he hoped it would work out for everybody, including China, and “for liberty” without anyone getting hurt or killed.

“Our intelligence has informed us that the Chinese government is moving troops to the border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!” Trump said in a tweet.

In a second day of unrest at the airport, thousands of black-clad protesters jammed the terminal, chanting, singing and waving banners.

Scuffles broke out after an injured person was taken out of the main terminal by medics after he was held by a group of protesters. Some activists claimed he was an undercover mainland Chinese police officer.

Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters and riot police moved in, pushing some protesters back and using pepper spray. A policeman pulled out a gun at one point.

Protesters also barricaded some passageways in the airport with luggage trolleys, metal barriers and other objects. At least two protesters were taken away by police.

The situation calmed down after a few hours without the violence worsening.

The action at the airport followed an unprecedented airport shutdown on Monday. Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said operations had been “seriously disrupted” on Tuesday and departing passengers had been unable to reach immigration counters.

Fu Guohao, reporter of Chinese media Global Times website, is tied by protesters during a mass demonstration at the Hong Kong international airport, August 13 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Fu Guohao, reporter of Chinese media Global Times website, is tied by protesters during a mass demonstration at the Hong Kong international airport, August 13 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The weeks of protests began as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China and have swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong since China took it back from Britain in 1997.

Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters have roiled the Asian financial hub. Hong Kong’s stockmarket fell to a seven-month low on Tuesday.

The UN human rights commissioner, Michele Bachelet, urged Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of their forces firing tear gas at protesters in ways banned under international law.

Riot police at Hong Kong International Airport, August 13 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Riot police at Hong Kong International Airport, August 13 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

China responded by saying her comments sent the wrong signal to “violent criminal offenders”.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned China on Monday that any violent crackdown on protests in Hong Kong would be “completely unacceptable”, while Trump administration officials urged all sides to refrain from violence.

Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam made an appeal for calm and restraint.

“Take a minute to look at our city, our home,” she said at a news conference in the newly fortified government headquarters complex. “Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?”

As she spoke, the benchmark Hang Seng index hit a seven-month low, shedding more than 2% and dragging down markets across Asia.

Demonstrators want Lam to resign. She says she will stay.

A Hong Kong policeman falls backwards as they scuffle with pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong's International Airport, August 13 2019. Picture: MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP
A Hong Kong policeman falls backwards as they scuffle with pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong's International Airport, August 13 2019. Picture: MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP

The events present Chinese President Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.

Hong Kong legal experts say Beijing might be paving the way to use antiterrorism laws to try to quell the demonstrations.

Despite the trouble, some flights were still scheduled to take off early on Wednesday morning with some tourists still waiting in the departure hall and dining areas, according to Reuters journalists in the airport.

Some passengers challenged protesters over the delays as tempers began to fray.

Flag carrier Cathay Pacific said flights might still be cancelled at short notice. The airline, whose British heritage makes it a symbol of Hong Kong’s colonial past, is also in a political bind.

China’s civil aviation regulator demanded that the airline suspend staff who joined or backed the protests from flights in its airspace, pushing the carrier’s shares past Monday’s 10-year low.

Other Chinese airlines have offered passengers wanting to avoid Hong Kong a free switch to nearby destinations, such as Guangzhou, Macau, Shenzhen or Zhuhai, with the disruption sending shares in Shenzhen Airport surging.

Reuters