Hundreds of flights were cancelled on Tuesday at Hong Kong’s international airport as demonstrators invaded the terminal building for a second day of protests.
The latest cancellations come after protesters brought one of the world’s busiest airports to a standstill on Monday, forcing the grounding of all arrivals and departures from the mid-afternoon and leaving hundreds of travelers stranded.
“We’re supposed to be home right now,” said Sehem, a 23-year-old medical student trying to return to Europe. “We’ve been in the airport for more than 24 hours, we’re super tired, we just want to go see our families—and we have exams in ten days. We need to get home and study.”
Many passengers vented their anger at airline staff. One man screamed “I want to go home!” at an airline representative.
The Hong Kong protests began in June as a series of peaceful marches against a now-suspended bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China from the semi-autonomous enclave for the first time. But they have since snowballed into broader anti-government demonstrations characterized by violent clashes with police.
A three-day airport sit-in was scheduled to end on Sunday, but police handling of demonstrations in central Hong Kong that evening caused widespread anger and prompted thousands to return to the airport on Monday and renew their occupation of the terminal building in protest.
Videos circulated online showed police on Sunday apparently firing crowd-control weapons at protesters at close range in enclosed spaces, like subway stations. One young woman, believed to be a medic, was reportedly blinded after being hit in the eye with a projectile.
“What happened on Sunday [night], the violence, made many people furious about the abuse of power,” said Iris, a 28-year-old protester and a teacher. “We don’t think [yesterday’s airport protest] was enough. This is just the start, a lot of people are at work. Later there will be more coming out.”
The intensifying unrest has sparked stern condemnation from Beijing. Speaking at a press conference Monday, Yang Guang, China’s top policy official for Hong Kong and Macau, accused “radical protesters” of committing serious crimes and “starting to plant the seeds of terrorism.”
— With reporting by Amy Gunia and Abhishyant Kidangoor / Hong Kong