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China labeled pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters “terrorists” on Monday after another weekend of violent clashes between protesters and riot police that saw one woman reportedly shot in the eye by police.
With the protests entering their tenth week, it is the first time Beijing has described them as “terrorism,” a designation that has stoked fears among protesters of a Chinese military intervention.
Adding to those concerns was a show of force by China’s military, which sent armored personnel carriers to the southern city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, to take part in military exercises.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, authorities invited journalists and lawmakers to witness a demonstration of a water cannon that the city’s authorities purchased after protests in 2014, but have yet to use.
The possibility of intervention by Beijing was raised once again when riot police clashed with protesters on Sunday night.
Video footage shows officers firing tear gas inside confined subway stations and firing on protesters at close range with non-lethal ammunition.
One young woman appeared to be seriously injured after being shot in the eye with a beanbag round, but police claimed Monday that footage of the shooting had to be verified, and that they couldn’t confirm “the reasoning behind this lady’s injury.”
Police officers also dressed up as protesters in order to infiltrate the group and arrest suspects.
Sunday’s night protests continued into Monday, when protesters staged a sit-in at Hong Kong’s international airport, forcing all flights into and out of the city to be canceled. More than 5,000 protesters crowded the arrivals hall in the airport, holding signs saying “Hong Kong is not safe” and “Shame on police.”
The protesters were dressed in black T-shirts and masks, and handed out leaflets to arriving travelers showing graphic images of injured protesters. Many also wore eye-patches in solidarity with the woman who was injured on Sunday night.
Just after 5 p.m.. local time, the airport was thrown into further chaos when authorities advised everyone to evacuate the airport immediately, with reports suggesting riot police were on their way to clear the protesters.
Thousands of people were left with no option but to walk from the airport back to the city, with buses, trains, and taxis filling up quickly.
Protests began in Hong Kong in early June against an extradition bill that critics feared would allow Beijing to force residents to stand trial in mainland China on criminal charges. While the Hong Kong government has suspended the bill, activists worry it could be revived at a later date.
With no end in sight to the clashes between Hong Kong’s government and the activists, fears that China may step in with a military presence have grown — and comments from Beijing on Monday only added to those fears.
"Hong Kong’s radical demonstrators have repeatedly attacked police officers with extremely dangerous tools," said Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office. "They have already constituted serious violent crimes and have begun to show signs of terrorism. This is a gross violation of the rule of law and social order in Hong Kong, which is endangering the lives and safety for Hong Kong citizens."
Cover: A woman holds a placard which reads "Black police, Return eye," during a sit-in protest at the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. It is reported that police shot a woman in the eye with a projectile Sunday night during confrontations between protesters and police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)