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Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters staged a sit-in at Hong Kong’s international airport Friday, launching a three-day occupation of one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs.
Black-clad protesters filled the arrival and departure halls, unfurling a banner reading “Liberate Hong Kong,” and passing out pamphlets about Hong Kong’s political crisis printed in English and Chinese. Some distributed mock boarding cards with the destination: “Freedom.”
The airport sit-in, intended to raise awareness of the protests among international visitors, is just one of a series of actions planned as the pro-democracy protests enter their 10th week, with no end to the standoff in sight. It comes just days after a citywide strike paralyzed transport links in the city and led to the closure of many businesses.
Hong Kong's Airport Authority said it intends to operate normally throughout the occupation, although extra ID measures have been put in place, and airlines are advising departing passengers to turn up earlier than usual.
The airport sit-in comes amid warnings that Hong Kong’s travel industry, which accounts for nearly 5 percent of the city’s economy, has been affected by the political unrest. The protests have prompted 22 countries to issue heightened travel advisories about visiting Hong Kong. The U.S. warned its citizens to “exercise increased caution” due to sometimes “confrontational” protests.
The government said Thursday that tourist arrivals dropped by more than a quarter in July compared with July 2018, and were continuing to fall in August. About 75 million passengers — about 1,000 flights carrying about 200,000 people a day — passed through the airport last year.
As protest organizers announced plans for rallies across the city this weekend, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam lashed out at the movement during a news conference Friday, saying their disruptive actions were harming the city’s economy.
"We've experienced SARS and financial crises," she told reporters. "This time is more serious."
Lam ruled out making any concessions to the protesters’ demands, saying the government’s priority was stopping the demonstrations.
“I don’t think we should just make concessions in order to silence the violent protesters. We should do what is right for Hong Kong,” she said.
“We must stop the violent protests. “Hong Kong cannot have large-scale, spontaneous protests that obstruct traffic and daily operations.”
Her comments came as Washington and Beijing once again clashed over Hong Kong, trading insults after a pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper ran photographs of a U.S. diplomat meeting with protest leaders in the city.
The latest spat kicked off when the Ta Kung Pao newspaper published a report under the headline “Foreign Forces Intervene” Thursday, with a photograph of Julie Eadeh, head of the U.S. Consulate’s political section, talking to protest leaders — including high-profile student activist Joshua Wong — in a Hong Kong hotel lobby. The report included details about Eadeh’s State Department career, along with the names of her husband and teenage children.
The story, which bolstered Beijing’s narrative that the protests are a result of a U.S.-backed plot to destabilize China’s rule of Hong Kong, was circulated in other state-run media outlets.
It drew a furious response from the U.S. State Department, which accused China of “thuggish” behavior during a briefing late Thursday.
“I don’t think that leaking an American diplomat’s private information, pictures, names of their children, I don’t think that is a formal protest, that is what a thuggish regime would do,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters.
“That is not how a responsible nation would behave.”
Cover: A protester holds up a banner warning of the dangers of traveling to Hong Kong at the airport in Hong Kong on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Pro-democracy protesters held a demonstration at Hong Kong's airport Friday even as the city sought to reassure visitors to the city after several countries issued travel safety warnings related to the increasing levels of violence surrounding the two-month-old protest movement. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)