Hong Kong Airport on Monday made the rare decision to cancel all its flights after thousands of protesters invaded its arrivals hall to protest the police violence committed as part of the unprecedented mobilization that engulfs the former British colony.
The closure of the eighth busiest international airport in the world, known for its remarkable efficiency, was announced when the Chinese central government said it saw "signs of terrorism" in this protest in its semi-autonomous region.
The decision of the airport authority, and the words of China, occurred 10 minutes apart, are the sign of a new escalation in a political crisis that has lasted since early June, and is the worst in Hong Kong since the surrender of the territory to China in 1997.
It's been four days since the airport, which has welcomed 74 million passengers in 2018, is the scene of a peaceful sit-in of thousands of protesters who seek through this original action to raise awareness of travelers to their cause.
But after ten consecutive weekends of demonstrations in the territory, which was again enamelled of serious violence between radicals and police, the number of demonstrators increased significantly Monday at the airport, where they were more than 5,000, according to the police.
In the departures hall
"The airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been severely disrupted by public rallies at the airport today," the airport authority said in a statement.
"With the exception of departing flights, which have completed check-in and arrival flights already on their way to Hong Kong, all other flights have been canceled for the remainder of the day."
This is not the first time flights have been suspended at Hong Kong Airport. But it is usually typhoons that lead to such drastic measures.
Kong Wing-cheung, a public relations officer for the police, told a press conference that the protesters, who had previously been in the arrivals hall, had gone to the departure hall.
Initially targeted in early June in the rejection of a bill that would have allowed extraditions to China, the mobilization in Hong Kong has significantly expanded its claims, now focused on denouncing a decline in freedoms and interference from China.
Under the principle of "one country, two systems" which had presided over the retrocession, Hong Kong enjoyed freedoms nonexistent elsewhere in mainland China, until 2047. But some Hong Kong feel that Beijing is trampling more and more their freedoms.
Hedge of honor to travelers
The mobilization has in these last weeks more and more given to violence and Beijing has muscled its speech and its threats of intervention. And a new level was crossed Monday.
"Radical protesters in Hong Kong have repeatedly used extremely dangerous objects to attack police officers, which is already a serious crime and reveals early signs of terrorism," the spokesman said. Hong Kong and Macao Business Office, Yang Guang.
Yang, who last week warned that "those who play with fire will perish by fire," denounced "a tiny minority" described as "a serious challenge to the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong", saying that Molotov cocktails had been thrown at the police.
Since Friday, protesters "peacefully" greeted at the airport travelers arriving in the megalopolis with songs, slogans and leaflets explaining their movement.
As soon as the customs passed, the visitors pushing their baggage carts discovered a crowd dressed in black, often smiling, handing them leaflets, making a hedge of honor to travelers from all over the world.
"Welcome to the city of used lachrymos," said a banner.
"An eye for an eye"
Monday, however, the crowd had grown, and the tone had changed, demonstrators denouncing almost exclusively police violence.
"Hong Kong is not a safe place!" Warned a streamer. "Shame on the police!"
Police fired tear gas at commercial streets on Sunday, demonstrators fighting back, throwing bricks or even sprinkling police into a subway station with fire extinguishers or garden hoses.
An official of the Hong Kong government announced that 45 people had been injured in the clashes, including two in serious condition. Among them, a woman is suffering from a serious facial wound, apparently having been hit by a projectile in a bag (bag filled with lead pellets).
Photos showing her on the ground with the bloody face were quickly taken back on the internet, now adorning leaflets calling for new events. "Eye for an Eye", thus proclaimed a flyer inviting the demonstrators to go to the airport.
The authorities refrained from excessive use of force against protesters. And police unveiled Monday two trucks topped with water cannons, an instrument that has never been used in two months of demonstrations.