Flights have resumed at Hong Kong’s airport after two days of disruption marked by outbursts of violence that highlight the hardening positions of pro-democracy protesters and the authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
About three dozen protesters remained in the airport’s arrivals area a day after a mass demonstration and frenzied mob violence forced more than 100 flight cancellations.
Additional identification checks were in place, but check-in counters were open and flights appeared to be operating normally.
Protesters spread pamphlets and posters across the floor in a section of the terminal but were not impeding travellers. Online, they also circulated letters and promotional materials apologising to travellers and the general public for inconveniences during the past five days of airport occupations.
“It is not our intention to cause delays to your travels and we do not want to cause inconvenience to you,” said an emailed statement from a group of protesters. “We ask for your understanding and forgiveness as young people in Hong Kong continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”
The airport’s management said it had obtained “an interim injunction to restrain persons from unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering” with airport operations.
It said an area of the airport had been set aside for demonstrations, and no protests would be allowed outside the designated area.
The airport had closed check-in for remaining flights late on Tuesday afternoon as protesters swarmed the terminal and blocked access to immigration for departing passengers. Those cancellations were in addition to 200 flights scrapped on Monday.
Hong Kong police said they arrested five people during clashes with pro-democracy protesters at the airport on Tuesday night.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Mak Chin-ho said the men, aged between 17 and 28, were arrested for illegal assembly. Two were also charged with assaulting a police officer and possessing offensive weapons as riot police sought to clear the terminal.
Mr Mak said additional suspects are expected to be arrested.
Hong Kong law permits life imprisonment for those who commit violent acts or acts that might interfere with flight safety at an airport.
The airport disruption has escalated a summer of demonstrations aimed at what many Hong Kong residents see as an increasing erosion of the freedoms they were promised in 1997 when Communist Party-ruled mainland China took over what had been a British colony.
More than 700 protesters have been arrested in total since early June, mostly men aged in their 20s and 30s.
While Hong Kong’s crucial travel industry suffers major losses, the city’s reputation as a well-regulated centre for finance is also taking a hit. Some 21 countries and regions have issued travel safety alerts for their citizens travelling to Hong Kong, saying protests have become more violent and unpredictable.
The demonstrators are demanding Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam steps down and scraps proposed legislation under which some suspects could be sent to mainland China, where critics say they could face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.
Ms Lam has rejected calls for dialogue, saying the protesters were threatening to push their home into an “abyss”.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Chinese cabinet’s liaison office in Hong Kong said the protesters had “entirely ruptured legal and moral bottom lines” and would face swift and severe repercussions under Hong Kong’s legal system.
Most of the protesters left the airport on Tuesday after officers armed with pepper spray and swinging batons tried to enter the terminal, fighting with demonstrators who barricaded entrances with luggage trolleys. Riot police clashed briefly with the demonstrators, leading to several injuries and prompting at least one officer to draw a handgun on his assailants.