Hong Kong protesters target airport week after arrivals hall mayhem

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong braced for multiple anti-government demonstrations on Friday and a “stress test” of the airport this weekend, as protests in the Chinese-ruled city showed no signs of let-up and diplomatic tension between China and some Western nations rose.

Students attend a rally to call for political reforms outside City Hall in Hong Kong, China, August 22, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The airport, built on reclaimed land and reached by train or a highway over a series of spectacular interlocking bridges, was forced to close last week and hundreds of flights were canceled or rescheduled when protesters and police clashed.

“Go to the airport by different means, including MTR, airport bus, taxi, bike and private car to increase pressure on airport transport,” protest organizers wrote online.

The Airport Authority published a half-page advertisement in major newspapers urging young people to “love Hong Kong” and said it opposed acts that blocked and interfered with operation of the airport, adding that it would keep working to maintain smooth operations.

Hong Kong’s high court extended an order restricting protests at the airport.

The Canadian consulate said it had suspended travel to mainland China for local staff, just days after an employee of the city’s British consulate was confirmed to have been detained in China.

China has said that Simon Cheng, the consulate employee, was detained in the border city of Shenzhen neighboring Hong Kong.

Beijing has accused Britain and other Western countries of meddling in its affairs in Hong Kong.

Canada’s latest travel advisory on Thursday warned that increased screening of travelers’ digital devices had been reported at border crossings between mainland China and Hong Kong.

Friday’s protests include a march by accountants to government headquarters and a “Baltic Chain” in which protesters will join hands across different districts in the former British colony.

“A lot of bosses are apolitical. However, politics comes to you even when you try to avoid it,” Kenneth Leung, a lawmaker for the accountancy “functional constituency”, told protesters.

“…We used to be ranked as the freest economy in the world for almost 20 years. Can we keep the ranking? No, it’s over. Our core values are integrity and honesty. We need to stick to our international core values.”

BACK IN THE USSR

In 1989, an estimated two million people joined arms across three Baltic states in a protest against Soviet rule that became known as the “Baltic Way” or “Baltic Chain”.

“The ‘Baltic Way’ brought the world’s attention to their cause and inspired following generations,” the rally organizers said in a statement. “We plead that you will not look away at this crucial time. Stand with Hong Kong.”

The protests, originally over a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to China, have plunged Hong Kong into its deepest crisis since its handover to Beijing in 1997 and pose a major challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The unrest has widened into calls for greater freedom, fueled by worries about the erosion of rights guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula, adopted after the 1997 handover, such as an independent judiciary and the right to protest.

Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google has said its YouTube streaming video service disabled 210 channels appearing to engage in a coordinated influence operation around the Hong Kong protests. Twitter and Facebook have also dismantled a similar campaign originating in mainland China.

Nearly three months of anti-government rallies have plunged the city into crisis, drawing in corporate casualties such as Cathay Pacific (0293.HK) amid mounting Chinese scrutiny over the involvement of some of the carrier’s staff in protests.

Cathay confirmed on Friday that Rebecca Sy, the head of Cathay Dragon’s Airlines Flight Attendants’ Association, was no longer with the company. Her departure follows the shock resignation of Cathay Chief Executive Rupert Hogg last week.

Sy said she was fired immediately after managers saw her Facebook account.

The carrier has become the biggest corporate casualty of the protests.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions called on Cathay to end to what it described as “white terror”, following Sy’s sacking, which, it said, was a “blatant act of suppression”.

Cathay pilots and cabin crew have described a “white terror” of political denunciations, sackings and phone searches by Chinese aviation officials.

The protests are already taking a toll on the city’s economy and tourism, with the special administrative region on the cusp of its first recession in a decade.

Corporations, including big banks and property developers, have called for a restoration of law and order, while exhibitors are seeing widespread cancellations.

General view of the central district of Hong Kong, China, August 22 , 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Demonstrators have five demands: withdraw the extradition bill, set up an independent inquiry into the protests and perceived police brutality, stop describing the protests as “rioting”, waive charges against those arrested, and resume political reform.

Beijing has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills just over the border.

Reporting by Jessie Pang, Lukas Jobm Donny Kwok, Anne Marie Roantree and Twinie Siu in Hong Kong, Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Jamie Freed in Singapore; Writing by Farah Master and Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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