Protests close Hong Kong air­port

China calls ac­tions ‘ter­ror­ism,’ moves troops to­ward bor­der

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY TI­MOTHY MCLAUGH­LIN AND ANNA KAM

HONG KONG — Thou­sands of protesters shut down Hong Kong’s in­ter­na­tional air­port Mon­day, de­fy­ing an in­ten­si­fy­ing po­lice crack­down, as China is­sued omi­nous warn­ings that de­scribed the protests as “ter­ror­ism” and be­gan mass­ing a para­mil­i­tary force in a south­ern bor­der city.

Fears have been mount­ing that Bei­jing — squeezed by a trade dis­pute with the United States and ap­proach­ing a na­tion­wide cel­e­bra­tion of the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China — will soon re­sort to mil­i­tary ac­tion to quell the pro-democ­racy protests in the semi­au­tonomous ter­ri­tory. Chi­nese of­fi­cials and state news me­dia ac­tively stoked those fears Mon­day.

“The rad­i­cal de­mon­stra­tors in Hong Kong have re­peat­edly at­tacked po­lice with ex­tremely dan­ger­ous tools in re­cent days, which con­sti­tutes a se­ri­ous vi­o­lent crime, and now they are descend­ing into ter­ror­ism,” said Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Ma­cao Af­fairs Of­fice in Bei­jing. It was the first time the of­fice had por­trayed the protests in Hong Kong as “ter­ror­ism.”

“We should re­lent­lessly crack down on such vi­o­lent crim­i­nal acts with­out mercy, and we firmly sup­port Hong Kong po­lice and ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties in bring­ing the crim­i­nals to jus­tice as soon as pos­si­ble,” Yang told re­porters from state and Hong Kong me­dia.

The na­tion­al­ist Global Times tabloid tweeted a video show­ing Chi­nese ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers head­ing to­ward the south­ern city of Shen­zhen, which bor­ders Hong Kong, ahead of what the pa­per called “largescale ex­er­cises” by the Peo­ple’s Armed Po­lice, a para­mil­i­tary unit. “The tasks and mis­sions of the Armed Po­lice in­clude par­tici

pat­ing in deal­ing with re­bel­lions, ri­ots, se­ri­ous vi­o­lent and il­le­gal in­ci­dents, ter­ror­ist at­tacks and other so­cial se­cu­rity in­ci­dents,” the news­pa­per elab­o­rated in an ac­com­pa­ny­ing story.

And China’s state broad­caster, CCTV, is­sued a com­men­tary Mon­day night in which it warned: “No coun­try can ac­cept ter­ror­ist acts in its own coun­try … Hong Kong has reached an im­por­tant junc­ture. ‘End vi­o­lence and re­store or­der’ is the most im­por­tant, ur­gent and over­rid­ing task of Hong Kong at present!”

Some of the protesters who had been oc­cu­py­ing the air­port’s arrivals hall swarmed into the de­par­tures area Mon­day, prompt­ing au­thor­i­ties to can­cel all flights and ad­vise trav­el­ers to leave one of the world’s busiest hubs. Air­port op­er­a­tions re­sumed Tuesday morning, though there were some de­lays and can­cel­la­tions stem­ming from the pre­vi­ous night’s dis­rup­tion.

Mon­day’s protest came in re­sponse to a sharp in­crease in the level of force em­ployed by Hong Kong’s em­bat­tled po­lice. Hours be­fore the air­port shut­down, two po­lice of­fi­cers else­where in the city pinned a black-clad demon­stra­tor to the con­crete, one of­fi­cer’s knee press­ing the young man’s face into a pool of his own blood.

“I’ve al­ready been ar­rested,” the man yelled as he cried for help. “Don’t do this, I’m beg­ging you.”

The scene, cap­tured Sun­day night by a cam­era­man from the Hong Kong Free Press, was jar­ring even in a city now ac­cus­tomed to week­ends awash with tear gas. It un­leashed a fresh wave of anger to­ward Hong Kong’s po­lice force and the govern­ment more broadly, spurring thou­sands of de­mon­stra­tors to re­spond by oc­cu­py­ing the air­port.

At the air­port Mon­day, of­fi­cials had halted all de­par­tures by late af­ter­noon, af­fect­ing tens of thou­sands of pas­sen­gers.

Hong Kong’s air­port author­ity said all flights were sus­pended Mon­day at about 3:30 p.m. lo­cal time (3:30 a.m. Eastern time).

Af­ter sit­ting in the arrivals hall for much of the day, many protesters be­gan leav­ing the air­port in the evening amid ru­mors on so­cial me­dia and mes­sag­ing apps that po­lice were pre­par­ing for a large clear­ance op­er­a­tion.

On Sun­day night, Hong Kong po­lice in­ten­si­fied their crack­down with new and more ag­gres­sive tac­tics af­ter more than two months of sus­tained protests and more than 600 ar­rests.

Of­fi­cers dis­guised them­selves as protesters to arrest sus­pects, launched tear gas in­side a sub­way sta­tion and fired on protesters at close range with less-than-lethal am­mu­ni­tion. One young woman was shot in the face with what appeared to be a bean bag round, se­verely in­jur­ing her eye. Po­lice said Mon­day that the videos and pho­tos had to be ver­i­fied and that they could not con­firm “the rea­son­ing be­hind this lady’s in­jury.”

But the in­ci­dent pro­vided the lat­est rallying point for protesters.

“The po­lice have had enough, to be hon­est. They feel like they have been bul­lied for two months now, and they knew them­selves more than ca­pa­ble to use real force and tac­tics to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion,” said Cle­ment Lai, a for­mer po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent who now runs his own se­cu­rity firm.

“If the or­der was given that they need to es­ca­late their ac­tion and their force, th­ese guys are more than happy to do that.”

The po­lice ac­tions ap­pear to be part of broader ef­forts by the Hong Kong govern­ment, with the sup­port of of­fi­cials in Bei­jing, to end the po­lit­i­cal crisis, through an ap­proach that in­cludes ramp­ing up pres­sure on busi­nesses, lev­el­ing heavy charges against ar­rested protesters and us­ing state-con­trolled me­dia to pump out in­creas­ingly shrill, con­spir­a­to­rial claims about who is or­ga­niz­ing the demon­stra­tions.

“Af­ter a pe­riod of sev­eral weeks of un­cer­tainty as to who was co­or­di­nat­ing the govern­ment re­sponse, last week saw the roll­out of Bei­jing’s mul­ti­pronged, com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy to deal with the protests,” said Se­bas­tian Veg, a his­to­rian of China and a pro­fes­sor at the School of Ad­vanced Stud­ies in So­cial Sciences in Paris.

“The aim is to turn public opin­ion against the protests by dras­ti­cally rais­ing the cost of par­tic­i­pa­tion.”

The new po­lice tac­tics came af­ter for­mer deputy po­lice com­mis­sioner Alan Lau was called out of re­tire­ment last week to help the em­bat­tled force.

Lai cred­ited the new ap­proach, in part, to Lau’s re­turn. “He is com­ing back with a mis­sion,” the for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent said.

Hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials said that 45 peo­ple were in­jured in week­end protests and that 25 re­mained hos­pi­tal­ized. Two were in se­ri­ous con­di­tion.

One po­lice of­fi­cer who has worked on the front lines over the past month said of­fi­cers’ new ploy of dis­guis­ing them­selves as protesters — wear­ing masks, yel­low hard hats and black civil­ian clothes — was a de­lib­er­ate tac­tic from the po­lice Spe­cial Du­ties Unit, nick­named the “Fly­ing Tigers,” to sow mis­trust among protesters.

This is a tac­tic they will con­tinue to use, the of­fi­cer said, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to talk to re­porters. Po­lice on Mon­day also dis­played trucks mounted with wa­ter can­nons that they could de­ploy to dis­perse crowds.

One 22-year-old pro­tester who has been on the front line for weeks ad­mit­ted that the more ag­gres­sive moves by po­lice had caught some de­mon­stra­tors off guard and yielded re­sults.

“It was quite ef­fec­tive for them; they are chang­ing their strat­egy,” he said. “We know now the po­lice have no lim­its. They will not fol­low the rules and the law.”

The govern­ment, in what has be­come a weekly ri­tual, con­demned protesters Mon­day and said a po­lice of­fi­cer was in­jured af­ter be­ing hit with a fire­bomb tossed by a demon­stra­tor.

“We should re­lent­lessly crack down on such vi­o­lent crim­i­nal acts with­out mercy, and we firmly sup­port Hong Kong po­lice and ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties in bring­ing the crim­i­nals to jus­tice.” Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Ma­cao Af­fairs Of­fice in Bei­jing

MANAN VATSYAYANA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

TOP: A sit-in forced Hong Kong’s in­ter­na­tional air­port to can­cel all flights. ABOVE: A pro­tester wears a ban­dage in sol­i­dar­ity with a demon­stra­tor in­jured in clashes with po­lice.

PHILIP FONG/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Protesters lie down at Hong Kong’s in­ter­na­tional air­port. Many left Mon­day evening, and some flights re­sumed Tuesday morning.

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