Hong Kong: Hundreds of Flights Canceled as Estimated Half a Million Go on Strike

ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images
ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images

As many as half a million people in Hong Kong refused to go to work on Monday, freezing mass transit in the city and grounding over 200 flights. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse large crowds of protesters in neighborhoods throughout the city who demanded the Communist Party stay out.

The largely peaceful crowds of protesters faced increased violence from police this weekend. Images surfacing online from the various protest scenes on Sunday showed police hurling tear gas canisters into densely packed crowds. One video circulating online showed an unidentified driver ramming into protesters who had erected a barricade in Yuen Long, the suburban neighborhood where a mob of masked thugs attacked protesters last month with minimal police interruption.

Protesters took to the streets on Monday following these attacks and continued to demand that China respect “One Country, Two Systems,” the policy that prevents Beijing from imposing Communist Party law on the city. Those actively occupying the streets were only part of those protesting, as many chose to stay home from work to express their political will. Among these estimated 500,000 people staying home, according to the South China Morning Post, were enough air traffic controllers that Hong Kong airport canceled 230 flights on Monday morning. Authorities announced that the airport will have only one functional runway until at least Tuesday morning and only about half of scheduled flights will take off.

The few flights taking off are also counting on limited staff, as pilots and flight attendants refused to come into work.

The Morning Post noted that the protests appeared to be timed with summer vacation season, almsot immediately impacting the value of airlines operating out of Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific Group, the largest, reportedly fell 3.13 percent in value as the stock exchange opened on Monday.

Protests also disrupted local commutes. Mass Transit Rail (MTR) conductors and staff also called in sick, forcing the city to cancel many of its trains and creating a chaotic situation in some of the most typically crowded train platforms. The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported on Monday that at least seven train lines had service suspended during the late rush hour. City authorities urged individuals to attempt to work from home if possible to ease the pressure on MTR services while they scrambled to find train conductors.

Protesters spent much of last week urging the city to join them in a general strike. On one morning, the protesters used their bodies to stop MTR trains from closing and handed out flyers apologizing to commuters for the disturbance, but urging them to use the opportunity to take a day off.

Police responded to protests throughout the city on Monday, often attacking with tear gas, according to reports on the ground. The HKFP reported that protesters organized at least eight protests to begin simultaneously throughout the city Monday at 1 p.m. Within three hours of the protests beginning, protesters and journalists reported widespread use of tear gas and pepper spray.

Monday’s protests continue anti-China actions from Sunday. Protesters particularly incensed the government of China by spray-painting anti-China messages on the Golden Bauhinia Blakeana statue in the center of the city – a gift from Beijing to the city following its reintegration into the communist dictatorship – and that some protesters destroyed Chinese communist flags. The Golden Bauhinia Blakeana protesters wrote “Heaven will destroy the Communist Party” into the base of the statue.

“Vandalizing the Golden Bauhinia Blakeana, which represents the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s autonomy is a direct attack on the rule of the Hong Kong government,” a Communist Party-friendly “expert” told the Global Times, a Chinese government propaganda outlet.

“Such acts show the extreme anxiety, relentlessness, and violent behavior of the demonstrators,” another “expert” said.

The Hong Kong government, controlled by Beijing, is offering 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($127,595) for information on another protester who lowered a Chinese flag from a mast near Hong Kong harbor and dumped it into the sea, replacing it with an independence flag on the mast.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam made an increasingly rare public appearance Monday to condemn the protests, accusing the protesters of wanting “revolution.”

“They claim they want a revolution and to restore Hong Kong, these actions have far exceeded their original political demands,” she reportedly said“These illegal acts that challenge our country’s sovereignty, and jeopardize ‘one country two systems’, will destroy the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.”

Protests began in early June in response to the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) proposing a bill that would allow the Communist Party to extradite any individual present in Hong Kong if accused of violating Chinese Communist law. The protesters identified the bill as a backdoor way to impose Chinese law on the city, as anyone who violates Chinese law would be subject to extradition, and as such a violation of “One Country, Two Systems.” LegCo, which currently cannot meet because protesters destroyed the legislative floor in its headquarters, tabled the extradition bill, which allows them to revive it at any time. Protesters insist this is not enough.

The protesters are circulating a flyer that lists their demands as:”complete withdrawal” of the extradition bill, which prevents lawmakers from reviving it; a retraction of a government declaration that one of the peaceful protests during this cycle was a “riot;” the release of political prisoners; the creation of a separate commission to investigate police brutality; and direct election of lawmakers, which Hong Kong currently does not have. Hong Kong residents can elect only half of LegCo directly.

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