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Hong Kong airport crippled for second day as clashes erupt between police, protesters

Thomas Peter, REUTERS | Anti-government protesters block the access to the departure gates, during a demonstration at Hong Kong Airport, China August 13, 2019.

Flights leaving Hong Kong's airport were disrupted for a second day as protesters staged new rallies on Tuesday, hours after the territory’s embattled leader warned them against heading down “a path of no return”.

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Scuffles broke out in the evening between police and protesters, after an injured person was taken out of the main terminal by medics.

Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters, and riot police moved in, pushing some protesters back and using pepper spray at times amid heated scenes. Protesters also barricaded some passageways in the airport with luggage trolleys and other objects.

Hong Kong's Airport Authority said operations at the airport had been "seriously disrupted" and that departing passengers had been unable to reach immigration counters.

On Tuesday, thousands of black-clad protesters jammed the terminal, chanting, singing and waving banners, following an unprecedented airport shutdown on Monday. Floors and walls were covered with missives penned by activists and other artwork. Initially, the scene was peaceful as knots of protesters spoke to travellers, explaining their aims.

"Sorry for the inconvenience, we are fighting for the future of our home," read one protest banner at the airport. "I think paralysing the airport will be effective in forcing Carrie Lam to respond to us... it can further pressure Hong Kong's economy," said Dorothy Cheng, 17.

Beijing rejected UN’s ‘wrongful statement’

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Hong Kong to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of its forces firing tear gas at protesters in ways banned under international law. China rejected it, calling it a “wrongful statement” amounting to interference in its domestic affairs and sent "the wrong signal to violent criminal offenders".

US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the situation in Hong Kong was “tricky”, but he hoped it would “work out for everybody, including China”, and "for liberty" without anyone getting hurt or killed, he told reporters during a visit to Morristown, New Jersey.

Beijing also condemned this week some protesters for using dangerous tools to attack police, calling the clashes "sprouts of terrorism". They present President Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.

Hong Kong legal experts say Beijing might be paving the way to use anti-terrorism laws to try to quell the demonstrations.

'Panic and chaos', stock market in seven-month low

The weeks of protests began as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China, but have swelled into wider calls for democracy. Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the "one country, two systems" arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong since China took it back from Britain in 1997.

They want Lam to resign. She says she will stay. "My responsibility goes beyond this particular range of protest," Lam said on Tuesday, adding that violence had pushed the territory into a state of "panic and chaos".

As she spoke, Hong Kong's stock market fell to a seven-month low. Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters have roiled the Asian financial hub as thousands of residents chafe at a perceived erosion of freedoms and autonomy under Chinese rule. It shed more than 2%, dragging down markets across Asia.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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