Hong Kong Protesters Defend Airport Chaos
Faizan Hashmi 3 days ago Thu 15th August 2019 | 11:30 PM
Protesters who blocked the Hong Kong airport for two consecutive days this week have explained to Sputnik that they were forced to act after their demands for a controversial extradition bill to be scrapped fell on deaf ears
Thousands of black-clad youths wearing gas masks barricaded in the airport, causing hundreds of flights to be canceled. The sit-in was the culmination of more than two months of rallies in the autonomous city, sparked off by a bill that sought to allow extraditions to mainland China.
The demonstration at the world's major transport hub disrupted travel plans of thousands of passengers and is expected to leave airlines with huge losses. Protesters took to social media on Wednesday to apologize for their actions and ask for understanding.
The airport resumed operations on Thursday but kept restrictions in place, only letting in passengers with valid air tickets and passports. The government in China has compared the airport crisis to terrorism after protesters beat up two travelers they suspected to be undercover agents.
Protesters, who spoke to Sputnik on condition of anonymity, explained that inertia of the Hong Kong government forced them to extreme measures after it suspended the controversial bill but refused to completely withdraw it. Rallies have been held at least weekly since early June and demonstrators have grown restless.
"Two million Hongkongers took to the streets to protest peacefully but the government seemed not to see them. So we eventually realized it was useless. We acted in this way to make them listen to our demands. We had no other choice," a young college graduate who identified as Natalie said.
Asked whether she thought this justified the disruptive demonstration at the airport she admitted that it "inconvenienced tourists" but they would hopefully understand concerns of the protesters.
"We know we were wrong and we apologized. This makes the difference between us and the government. The chief executive was wrong but she did not offer us a sincere apology," said Ben, a social worker in Hong Kong.
Jade, a tutor, said she felt sorry for the airport chaos but said this was the only way to "make them [the authorities] listen." The protesters have also been calling on the government to investigate police violence during the rallies and that Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down.
"We have demands but the government keeps ignoring them. So this was the only way to make them listen. Of course, I feel a little bit guilty but I think it's the government that should be apologizing to the tourists," she insisted.
Protesters told Sputnik they wanted to engage in dialogue with the government but only after it showed it was ready to listen. Authorities in Hong Kong need to act on their key demands before any meaningful negotiations can begin.
"We are always in favor of dialogue between the protesters and the government. We have tried so many times since June to tell it what we want, but the Hong Kong government remained deaf to our calls. Any dialogue is useless because the government won't listen to us," Natalie said.
Jade said that protesters would not sit down to the negotiating table before the government "satisfies our demands, apologizes and punishes police for unlawful use of force." Demonstrators are ready to stay in the streets for another couple of months, she said, warning there could be more ugly scenes.
Ben said tensions between police and protesters grew after a group of what were thought to be gangsters assaulted passengers at a subway station who they took for anti-government demonstrators. Police did not find those responsible for the attack.
"Police were the first to use excessive force to disperse the crowds. They used batons and tear gas. Protesters defended themselves. After the fight with gangsters on July 21 police became hostile to protesters and protesters to police. Now both sides use force," he said.
Natalie said protesters were angered by police inertia after the subway station brawl, which injured over 40 people. The attackers wore white shirts, apparently to contrast themselves with anti-government demonstrators who mostly wear black.
"We were very angered because they did not arrest anyone wearing a white shirt. We think this is unfair," she added.
Hong Kong police have accused protesters of throwing bricks and gasoline bombs at them, flashing laser pointers in officers' eyes, attacking and setting fire to police stations. Police argue they responded with bare minimum force after warning off the demonstrators. A total of 177 officers have been hurt since June 9.