By Agence France-Presse
HONG KONG – Pro-democracy protesters retreated from Hong Kong’s airport on Wednesday following two days of hugely disruptive rallies that turned violent and plunged the global financial hub further into turmoil.
The protests ended early Wednesday morning following a series of clashes in which a policeman drew his gun after being beaten by demonstrators and other officers fired pepper spray.
The rallies paralyzed one of the world’s busiest travel hubs, deepening a 10-week crisis that is the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of Hong Kong since its 1997 British handover.
US President Donald Trump added to fears Beijing may be prepared to stage a military intervention to end the unrest, saying on Tuesday his intelligence had confirmed Chinese troop movements toward the Hong Kong border.
The people power movement, which has seen millions take to Hong Kong’s streets, was sparked by opposition to a planned law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
It quickly evolved into a much broader campaign for democratic freedoms, and to stop the growing influence of China’s authoritarian rulers in the semi-autonomous city.
China on Wednesday slammed pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong airport for “terrorist-like” acts, after two men were beaten by demonstrators.
Activists blockaded two terminals in the city on Tuesday in the latest escalation of a 10-week political crisis that has gripped the international finance hub and forced the closure of the airport.
A small group of protesters also surrounded, tied up, and beat a man wearing a yellow journalist vest – whom the editor of China’s state-controlled Global Times identified as one of the paper’s reporters – and another man Beijing said was a Shenzhen resident visiting Hong Kong.
“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.”
The man Xu identified as a Shenzhen resident was held for about two hours before eventually being taken away in an ambulance.
The actions of the protesters “seriously damage the international image of Hong Kong, and seriously hurt the feelings of a vast number of mainland China compatriots,” said Xu, saying the “extremely abominable violent crime must be severely punished according to the law.”
“We resolutely support the Hong Kong police force and judiciary… to decisively enforce… and bring the criminals to justice as soon as possible.”
On Monday and Tuesday, thousands of protesters wearing their signature black T-shirts gathered at Hong Kong’s airport, forcing hundreds of flights to be cancelled.After initially just voicing their demands with peaceful demonstrations, the protesters adopted more aggressive tactics on Tuesday and created barricades with luggage trolleys to block passengers at the departure halls.
Late on Tuesday night, the protests descended into a series of violent confrontations with police, and demonstrators scuffling with passengers desperate to get on flights.
In one particularly ugly scene, a group of protesters ganged up on a policeman and beat him. They stopped their attack when the policeman pulled his gun and pointed it at them, but did not fire.
Demonstrators also turned on two men, fuelled by suspicions within their ranks about undercover police or spies.
The first man was held for about two hours and assaulted before eventually being led away in an ambulance.
Riot police briefly deployed pepper spray and batons to beat back protesters while they escorted the vehicle away from the departures hall.
Another man, wearing a yellow journalist vest, was surrounded, zip-tied, and then beaten by a small group who accused him of being a spy.
In a tweet, Hu Xijun, the editor of China’s state-controlled Global Times tabloid – which has vociferously condemned the protests – said the man was working for the paper.
By early Wednesday, most protesters had left and many flights were operating as scheduled in the morning.