HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s airport resumed operations on Wednesday, rescheduling hundreds of flights that had been disrupted over the past two days as protesters clashed with riot police in a deepening crisis in the Chinese-controlled city.
Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters, angered by a perceived erosion of freedoms, have plunged the Asian financial hub into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
About 30 protesters remained at the airport early on Wednesday while workers scrubbed it clean of blood and debris from overnight. Check-in counters reopened to queues of weary travelers who had waited overnight for their flights.
Police condemned violent acts by protesters overnight and said on Wednesday a large group had “harassed and assaulted a visitor and a journalist.” Five people were detained, bringing the total number of people arrested since the protests began in June to more than 600, police said.
Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said on Tuesday operations at the city’s international airport had been seriously disrupted, as riot police used pepper spray to disperse thousands of black-clad protesters.
The Hang Seng stock index fell to a seven-month low on Tuesday and embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the city had been pushed into a state of “panic and chaos.”
China condemned some protesters for using dangerous tools to attack police, saying the clashes showed “sprouts of terrorism.” The protests represent one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong when it returned to China in 1997.
The protests began in opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects for trial in mainland China but have swelled into wider calls for democracy.
Check-in operations at the airport were suspended late on Tuesday afternoon, a day after an unprecedented shutdown. Thousands of peaceful protesters had swarmed the arrivals and departures halls earlier on Tuesday, chanting, singing and waving banners.
However, some protesters used luggage trolleys to blockade the doors to customs checkpoints. Protesters also scuffled with police later in the evening and several police vehicles were blocked amid heated scenes, according to Reuters witnesses. (Writing by Farah Master Editing by Paul Tait)