Flights resumed at the Hong Kong International Airport on Wednesday after two days of paralyzing protests that grounded planes and created a chaotic scene at one of the world’s busiest airports.
A few dozen demonstrators remained camped inside the arrivals terminal but the scene was quiet and calm compared to the previous night, when thousands of protesters held sit-ins and clashed with riot police, leading the airport to suspend check-in services and urge travelers to leave the airport. Inside, authorities limited access to the main terminal to employees and ticketed passengers.
At the arrivals terminal, two young women held up a poster that read: "Dear tourists, we're deeply sorry about what happened yesterday. We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions. Please accept our apology."
Hong Kong's flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways said 272 flights have been cancelled in the past two days, affecting more than 55,000 passengers, and criticized the "disruptive behavior" of protesters.
“Not only do they seriously harm Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation hub, they also damage the reputation of Hong Kong as a whole,” Cathay Pacific Airways said in a statement Wednesday.
Hong Kong's airport authority said in a statement Wednesday that it has obtained an interim injunction to restrain individuals from "unlawfully and willfully obstructing or interfering with the proper use of Hong Kong International Airport."
Protesters began occupying Hong Kong's airport six days ago, but mass demonstrations on the streets of the semi-autonomous city began in early June when hundreds of thousands of people marched peacefully against the government's proposal to change an extradition law that would allow individuals to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam has since suspended the controversial bill indefinitely. But the demonstrations have continued, and protesters are now calling on the government to establish an independent commission to investigate police conduct in their handling of the demonstrations.
The protests have also become more confrontational and violent. On Tuesday night, protesters "continuously hurled miscellaneous objects and aimed laser beams at police officers," according to a statement from Hong Kong police, which said they condemned "such radical and violent acts." Two officers were injured and sent to the hospital, police said.
Many of the demonstrators at the airport are wearing eye patches to show support for a woman who was reportedly shot in the face by a bean bag round fired by police on Sunday.
Beijing has meanwhile hinted at a more assertive posture. Chinese paramilitary police were seen in video released by the state holding exercises in Shenzhen, China, which sits across the border from Hong Kong. Images circulated online showing a convoy of armored personnel carriers from the People’s Armed Police traveling to the site.
A U.S. State Department on Wednesday said the United States “is deeply concerned by reports of Chinese paramilitary movement along the Hong Kong Border," and urged Beijing “to adhere to its commitments” when the country took back control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997 and pledged to allow a "high degree of autonomy."
“The ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong reflect the sentiment of Hongkongers and their broad and legitimate concerns about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the spokesperson said, adding: “We categorically reject the false charge of foreign forces as the black hand behind the protests."