Hong Kong Airport Is Closed After Protesters Storm It

Aug 12, 2019
Originally published on August 12, 2019 8:12 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hong Kong's airport has come to a virtual standstill. Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators have flooded the airport, and now officials there have canceled incoming and departing flights. This is the 10th straight week of protests which have become increasingly violent.

We're joined now by Mary Hui. She's a reporter at Quartz based in Hong Kong. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARY HUI: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you just give us a sense of the situation right now at the airport? I imagine it's incredibly chaotic. I mean, this is a major hub, is it not?

HUI: Yes, I was just there earlier this afternoon, and I've just returned to the newsroom. But really, it was packed full of protesters. It's this complete sea of black. The chanting is nonstop. It's ceaseless, thunderous. The anger there is just boiling and palpable.

The protesters there, of course, are denouncing and condemning what they see as a horrific and excessive use of force by the police last night, Sunday here, across Hong Kong, across different protest sites, where we had various incidents in which protesters appeared to be treated with far more force than was necessary. We had what appeared to be police officers who were disguised as protesters coming in to violently ambush and then arrest dozens of protesters - or dozens of protesters. A female protester had a beanbag round shot in her face, and she may lose most of the vision in one eye. And so these incidents to a lot of these protesters out there at the airport today are just entirely unacceptable, and they're out there to make their voice heard.

MARTIN: Mary, what has been the government's response over the past weeks to the demonstrations and the increasing violence?

HUI: So far, really, the government's response, the Hong Kong government's response, has been a resounding no to all protester demands and also a repeated, strong condemnation of all protesters, painting them in a broad brush stroke as all radical, all being violent. Of course, we do have various incidents of violence from protesters. That's undeniable. But to paint them in such a broad brush stroke, I think a lot of these protesters are also very angry about that. So that's been the response from the government.

Here, they are prioritizing economic issues. They're looking at this issue as an economic one rather than a political one with a political solution. And so protesters are also very disillusioned about that. On the Beijing side, China's obviously, in various instances, at various press conferences, laid down a certain line, saying Hong Kong cannot be allowed to continue in chaos without order, that the priority now is to restore stability and law and order, that these protesters have to be rooted out, and that these are radical, violent agents...

MARTIN: Can we back up...

HUI: ...With foreign backing.

MARTIN: Can we back up, though, Mary? I mean, what are protesters demanding in this moment? This all started because of this controversial extradition bill. The government in Hong Kong essentially put that on ice. So what do protesters want right now?

HUI: Yes, so the extradition bill is - you're correct - what really kicked off all of this. And that is still the case. That still factors in. It has been suspended but not completely withdrawn. And because there is so little trust between the people and the government, unless it is completely withdrawn, people fear that it can be brought back easily. So there's that.

The other side - another key demand here is accountability for alleged police brutality. What really kind of changed the vibe of the protest movement was an armed mob attack against civilians at a train station in a suburban town in Hong Kong in late July and reports of what appeared to be police collusion or at least police standing aside and allowing this armed mob to attack indiscriminately. That incident really turned public opinion against the police and destroyed any remnants of trust or confidence in the police.

And so I think both the withdraw the extradition bill and demand for a full investigation into police misconduct, those two have been at the forefront. And of course, we also have the broader demands for greater democracy, greater government accountability and the like.

MARTIN: Just briefly, do the protesters still enjoy wide support from the population writ large in Hong Kong?

HUI: I think from what we saw yesterday across various different districts - when riot police arrived, you had residents come down at midnight, get out of bed, come down onto the streets and heckle and boo the riot police away because they really just wanted to live in peace and think that the riot police are using excessive force and kicking off kind of a chain of events. So I think from that, we can see that support for the protesters and anger at the police is fairly widespread.

MARTIN: Mary Hui, a reporter at Quartz Magazine based in Hong Kong, thank you so much.

HUI: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.