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China slams 'terrorist-like actions' by Hong Kong protesters

Two days of demonstrations caused mass flight cancellations on Monday and Tuesday [Thomas Peter/Reuters]

The Chinese government has called events at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday ‘terrorist-like actions’ after clashes between police and protesters broke out.

The scuffles broke out after a small group of protesters said it captured a Chinese ‘spy’ among their own and tied up and beat a journalist, who was later identified to work for China’s state-controlled Global Times.

In return, Beijing claimed the ‘spy’ was a citizen of neighbouring Shenzhen city who was merely visiting Hong Kong.

Police responded by making arrests and firing pepper spray at the protesters.

One police officer was captured on video drawing his gun at protesters after they attacked him for trying to detain an unarmed woman and pinning her on the ground.

Other officers were also seen beating the protesters.

We express the strongest condemnation of these terrorist-like actions,” said Xu Luying, spokeswoman at the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council.

According to Xu, the actions “seriously damage the international image of Hong Kong, and seriously hurt the feelings of a vast number of mainland China compatriots”.

She added that “extremely abominable violent crime must be severely punished according to the law”.

After Tuesday’s late-night scuffle that left several people injured, most of the protesters and police eventually cleared the terminal.

On Wednesday, operations at the airport were back to normal, according to Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdelhamid, reporting from the airport.

“We’ve seen some of the employees come back to their counters, and some of the stranded passengers trying to figure out when they will be able to catch their flights,” she said.

“It’s not clear whether the protesters will come back tomorrow.”

The unrest at the airport conitnued on Tuesday afternoon, when aviation authorities cancelled hundreds of flights for the second day in a row.

Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators had returned to the terminal, to express their outrage over what they call is increasing police brutality.

Order to remove protesters

Despite the relative quiet on Wednesday morning, the problems may be far from over following reports that aviation authorities have obtained a court order to remove protesters from the terminal.

“Persons are also restrained from attending or participating in any demonstration or protest or public order event in the airport other than in the area designated by the airport authority,” said the court order.

Chinese state media have also reported that the Chinese government is building up a large police force in Shenzhen, a city in mainland China and only 30km from Hong Kong.

Videos from earlier in the week showed large columns of police vehicles entering the city and gathering near a sports stadium in Shenzhen.

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On Monday, China said violent anti-government demonstrations were the first signs of “terrorism” and called for the “severe” punishment of perpetrators.

Those comments by Beijing’s top office on Hong Kong policy came a day after tense clashes between police and protesters on Sunday, and came as thousands of demonstrators on Monday flooded the city’s international airport and prompted the cancellation of all flights. 

Police used batons and tear gas inside the airport on Wednesday during scuffles with protesters [Thomas Peter /Reuters]

‘Controlling Hong Kong’

Hong Kong’s 10-week political crisis, which has seen millions of people take to the streets calling for a halt to sliding freedoms, was already the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of the semi-autonomous city since its 1997 handover from Britain.

US President Donald Trump called for calm, saying his intelligence had confirmed Chinese troop movements towards the Hong Kong border.

China also denied access to two US navy ships that wanted to dock in Hong Kong, CNN reported.

“The Chinese Government denied requests for port visits to Hong Kong by the USS Green Bay and USS Lake Erie, which were scheduled to arrive in the next few weeks,” Commander Nate Christensen, the deputy spokesman for the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet, told the news channel.

The two ships, a transport ship and a guided missile-cruise were expected to visit Hong Kong later this week and in September respectively.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Gordon Chang, a China expert, said that one way for China to diffuse the situation is to force the resignation of Carrie Lam, the chief executive of the city.

“But they won’t do that, because they don’t want the protesters to have a victory,” Chang said. “If she leaves, she would trigger renewed calls for universal suffrage.

“What Beijing needs to do is to stop doing what it is doing, which is encroaching on the autonomy of the Hong Kong government.

“Beijing has a view that it needs to control Hong Kong. That view gets in the way of taking those steps and making compromises that would calm the situation.”