HONG KONG, Aug 14 (NNN-AGENCIES) – Violent clashes erupted at Hong Kong’s airport between riot police and pro-democracy protesters who have crippled operations at the transit hub, as tensions soar in the Chinese-controlled territory after weeks of mass demonstrations.
The police officers wearing helmets and holding shields and batons moved inside the building shortly after 11 pm (1500 GMT).
Confrontations quickly escalated inside and outside the airport, which has been the scene of a sit-in by thousands of protesters who are hoping to raise international attention to their cause.
Some protesters began trying to fend off the officers by building barricades out of luggage carts at an entrance ramp close to where dozens of armed police were attempting to get in.
Warning flags could be seen in the bag of one police officer. The flags are customarily flown before tear gas is fired at protesters, which has repeatedly occurred over the course of the past 10 weeks during street rallies.
In a video posted on social media, a protester could been seen taking a baton from a police officer and then attacking him with it, after which the officer pulled a gun on the protesters, who quickly dispersed.
Several people were witnessed being taken into custody by police.
Police vehicles were attacked and windows smashed but the scuffles did not last long. Officers retreated after about 15 minutes as hundreds of tourists and some protesters streamed through a separate exit in another terminal.
By early Wednesday the airport’s main terminal was mostly empty of protesters, although some travellers who had been stranded by two days of flight disruption were still inside.
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper reported that police were prompted to move in to help a man who had been held for hours by protesters who believed he was an undercover agent from mainland China.
Separately, a reporter for the Global Times newspaper, a Communist Party mouthpiece, was also held by protesters. Video showed the reporter’s hands being tied to a luggage car.
Airport authorities cancelled hundreds of departures on Monday and Tuesday after tensions grew following a largely peaceful sit-in inside the arrivals hall over the weekend.
Passengers had struggled to make flights as some protesters began taking more aggressive tactics and moved into the departures area, blocking travellers from checking in.
Tuesday night’s violence once again raised fears that Beijing could attempt to quell weeks of unrest in its semi-autonomous territory via military intervention.
US President Donald Trump stoked those concerns in a tweet, in which he wrote that China is moving troops towards the border.
“Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!” the president said.
Videos circulated in recent days and published by various media outlets have shown Chinese military assets deployed in Shenzhen, a border city.
Protests began on June 9 against a now-suspended legislative bill that would have allowed criminal extradition to mainland China.
While Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has a separate legal system until 2047 under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has failed to completely withdraw the extradition bill even though it was suspended, and has declined to launch an independent commission into police violence as demanded by protesters.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lam reiterated her support for the police force.
Lam told reporters that police “have had a very difficult time in the last two months to enforce the law” as anti-government protests have regularly disrupted traffic and spilled into residential areas.
The European Union called on all parties involved in the Hong Kong airport protest to exercise restraint and urgently de-escalate the situation.
“In light of the continuing unrest and the increase in violent incidents in Hong Kong, it is crucial that all sides exercise restraint, reject all kinds of violence and take urgent steps to de-escalate the situation,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.