HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Hong Kong’s airport resumed normal operations on Wednesday (Aug 14) morning after a chaotic night of protest in which demonstrators beat and detained two suspected infiltrators and US President Donald Trump warned of Chinese troops massing on the border.
Only a few dozen protesters remained at Hong Kong International Airport as of 6am on Wednesday, most having caught the last trains away from the airport rather than face dispersal by authorities.
The airport had resumed normal operations and was working to reschedule flights, an Airport Authority spokesman said by phone on Wednesday.
Most banners were gone and flights appeared to be largely running as scheduled.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people staged a sit-in at the departure gates, disrupting flights at Asia’s busiest international airport for the second straight day.
Police said they have arrested five people for unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers and possessing weapons, according to AP.
Officials said in a statement that some protesters detained, harassed and assaulted a traveller and a journalist, and obstructed ambulance workers from taking the two men to the hospital. They said other protesters attacked a police officer and snatched a baton from him.
This is the first time police have shown up at the airport during multiple days of sit-in protests, which have been largely peaceful.
A report in the South China Morning Post said that an injunction order had been issued for protesters to be removed from the airport.
The interruptions follow a weekend of violence that saw police fire tear gas into a subway station and shoot rubber bullets at close range.
Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam warned on Tuesday that the city risked sliding into an “abyss” as continuing unrest weighed on the economy.
A US State Department official urged China to adhere to the agreements it made when taking control of Hong Kong from the UK and allow the city to “exercise a high degree of autonomy” while respecting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The statement – from an official who asked not to be identified – was the most forceful to date from the US and followed a tweet from Trump, who said reports from American intelligence agencies show China is moving troops to its border with Hong Kong.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Trump was referring to new developments or mobilisations that have been underway for the past week.
“Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong,” Trump said in a tweet. “Everyone should be calm and safe!”
Demonstrators who have been protesting for the past 10 weeks against Beijing’s growing influence in the special administrative region targeted the international airport for a second day on Tuesday.
Thousands of black-clad protesters jammed the terminal chanting, singing and waving banners.
Scuffles broke out in the evening after an injured man was held by a group of protesters. Some claimed he was an undercover mainland Chinese agent and initially refused to let him leave.
Medics, however, bundled him onto a stretcher and forced their way through jeering throngs to an ambulance. Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters and riot police moved in amid chaotic scenes, using pepper spray to keep people back. 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.
Others clambered onto check-in counters as the protesters appeared to control part of the airport for a short while.
At least two protesters were taken away by police.
Another mainland Chinese man was held and tied down by protesters at the airport after they thought he was posing as a reporter. The editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper, Hu Xijin, tweeted that the man was a journalist with the paper. He was later taken away by ambulance.
The situation calmed down after a few hours without the violence worsening, and the crowds thinned out.
Hong Kong media reported that an injunction had been issued by a court to clear the airport of protesters. The action followed an unprecedented shutdown of the airport 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.
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.