CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Friday, 6 September 2019

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Protest makes airport a no-fly zone

HONG KONG (SE): Anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong reached a new peak as what should have been only a three-day sit-in protest at the arrivals hall of Hong Kong International Airport, ending on August 11, grew to a point where the Airport Authority was forced to shut down operations on the afternoons of August 12 and 13 bringing one of the busiest airports in the world to a standstill. 
 
Protesters already at the airport were joined by thousands more on August 12 in reaction to events of the previous evening in which heightened tensions saw police firing off tear gas inside the Kwai Fong MTR station and charging at protesters and others on escalator at Tai Koo Shing station. In Tsim Sha Tsui, the eye of one young woman—apparently a medic—was ruptured when it was struck by a beanbag round allegedly fired by police. 
 
Jackie Hung Ling-yu, a project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission, said she believes the anger of the crowd and the resulting inconvenience to travellers was triggered by the violence of the police on August 11. If not for that, the protest action at the airport would have ended on Sunday.
 
Many protestors at the airport wore eye patches or carried posters in sympathy with the injured woman and condemned alleged police brutality while chanting slogans against the police force. As the numbers of protesters swelled, the disruption to operations compelled the Airport Authority to cancel all departing and arriving flights from the late afternoon.
 
Addressing the media on the morning of August 13, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said the mass sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport, as well as police station sieges and widespread road blocks during protests, had made the city unsafe. She warned protesters they were pushing the city “into an abyss” by attacking its institutions, in an attempt to “destroy the rule of law.”
 
She said, “Hong Kong is seriously wounded. It will take a long time to recover.” 
 
Reacting to the use of tear gas at Kwai Fong station, the MTR Corporation said it was “very regretful” that passengers and rail staff had been put at risk and urged the police to consider their safety.
 
The South China Morning Post quoted To Kwong-yan, chairperson of the MTR Corporation Staff Union, as saying, “The police actions at both Kwai Fong and Tai Koo stations showed a blatant disregard for public safety… We are more concerned about what happened in Tai Koo station as the police fired pepper shots at protestors at close range and tried to disperse protestors along the moving escalator. This was highly dangerous and could have caused massive casualties.” 
 
Lam, in her press conference, defended the use of force by the police and again voiced criticism of recent protests. “The police have had a very difficult time in the past two months in enforcing the law and ensuing law and order in Hong Kong,” she said.
 
However, when asked if she had the autonomy to withdraw the extradition bill or set up an independent commission of inquiry, she evaded the question. Yet again failing to offer any solutions to the impasse, Lam made an emotional appeal to the public to rethink the current situation asking, “are you cold-hearted enough to push Hong Kong into this deep abyss that will crush us?” 
 
Protesters, who had begun to disperse the airport by the late evening of August 12, then began returning by afternoon of August 13, eventually leading to second shut down at 4.30pm.
 
The situation worsened with protesters hampering travellers from checking in and assaulting two men they believed to be mainland agents. 
 
Hung observed that both the police and protesters had become emotional. She stressed that and using violence against violence is not the way to find a solution. 
 
She said the serious conflicts between protesters, the police and the people disturbed by protests is a problem of Hong Kong government’s own making, but the problem can also help it divert attention from the issues underlying the unrest.
 
She said this means “that it can get away with doing nothing and ignore the demands of the protesters by condemning the violence,” she said, therefore “it is understandable that people suspect that some of the conflict in the airport might be instigated by undercover police officers.”
 
The Airport Authority sought and obtained an injunction, late on August 13, banning anyone from illegally or intentionally disrupting the normal usage of the airport, RTHK reported. The airport resumed normal operations on the morning of August 14.
 
RTHK also reported that the actions of the protesters at the airport reactions from callers to its The Millenium radio show on August 14.
 
Protesters who prevented passengers from checking in and who attacked and tied up two people suspected of being spies or undercover police were heavily criticised. Some listeners described it as mob behaviour and called for a curfew to be imposed, while others blamed to the police tactic of using undercover officers to infiltrate protesters for fuelling suspicions. 
 
A  majority of callers said that the actions of some demonstrators was too much, RTHK reported, 
 
However, some callers who said they had taken part in the airport protest over the past few days pointed out that demonstrators had tried to set aside channels for passengers, but because there were too many people, it became chaotic, they said.
 
Callers blamed the Airport Authority for not deploying enough staff to coordinate, RTHK reported. 
 
Hung said it is impossible to stop the protests without the government answering the demands, as anger has built up in the past two months. She believes the onus is upon Carrie Lam to come up with a solution to appease public sentiment and help Hongkongers. She found it disappointing that Lam seems to lack a genuine desire to come up with a solution. 
 
Hung, a member of the Civil Human Rights Front, said the group felt it necessary to organise a rally on August 18 to show their opposition against the violence used by the police. She said the rally is to be a peaceful one and that it is high time for those who are usually silent to speak up. 
 
Hung also worried that after the rally officially ends, there may be clashes with the police. “If the government responds to people’s request, there will be no conflicts,” she said.  

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