Hong Kong protesters aim to 'stress test' airport

PHOTO: South China Morning Post

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters are planning to disrupt transport links to the airport on Saturday (Sept 7) in the first mobilisation of their movement since the city's leader made a surprise concession earlier this week.

Millions of pro-democracy supporters have taken to Hong Kong's streets for the past three months in the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city's handover from Britain in 1997.

On Wednesday, the city's unelected pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam surprised many by announcing she was scrapping a hugely unpopular extradition law that sparked the huge and sometimes violent rallies, a key demand of protesters that she and Beijing had previously refused to budge on.

She portrayed the move as a bid to de-escalate tensions and start a dialogue.

But it has been widely dismissed by protesters as too little, too late after 1,100 arrests and many facing lengthy jail sentences.

Online messaging forums used by the largely leaderless movement have called for protesters to "stress test" the airport on Saturday afternoon, filling up with suggestions for how to disrupt the road and rail links leading to the terminals.

Police have said they are on standby to mobilise and keep the vital aviation hub up and running.

"The airport is an essential infrastructure catering to travellers all around the world," Lau Wing-kee, deputy airport district commander, told reporters on Friday (Sept 6).

"The police will closely monitor the situation and make respective deployment tomorrow."

TRAVEL CHAOS

In recent weeks the airport - the world's eighth busiest - has become a repeated target of pro-democracy protesters as they try to ramp up pressure on Beijing and city leaders by denting Hong Kong's reputation as a stable business hub.

But the tactic is controversial because of the travel misery it causes - and the fact that the target is not the state but ordinary people.

Last month hundreds of flights were cancelled over two days when huge crowds of protesters staged a sit-in at the airport, with ugly scenes as two men suspected of being Chinese spies were beaten.

Since then security has been ramped up around the sprawling hub - which lies on an artificial island west of the main city - and access to the terminals has been restricted to those with boarding passes.

But last Sunday, protesters returned to the airport and showed they could still wreak havoc.

Operators of the Airport Express train suspended services after the station was besieged, while black-clad protesters built barricades at the bus terminus and attempted to stop traffic on the main road leading to the facility.

Stranded travellers were forced to abandon their lifts and drag their luggage along the airport road.

Protesters have said their movement will only end when other key demands are met such as an amnesty for those arrested, an inquiry into the police and universal suffrage, all of which Lam and Beijing have rejected.

At a peaceful rally on Friday night in the city's commercial district, many protesters said they planned to continue hitting the streets.

"It's too late now, in these three months, a lot of people have sacrificed themselves and been arrested," said a retiree who gave his surname Cheng, bursting into tears as he spoke.

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