Normalcy has been restored to Hong Kong airport as pro-democracy protesters retreated on Wednesday following two days of hugely disruptive rallies that turned violent and plunged the global financial hub further into turmoil.
The protests ended early Wednesday morning following a series of clashes in which a policeman drew his gun after being beaten by demonstrators and other officers fired pepper spray.
The rallies paralysed one of the world’s busiest travel hubs, deepening a 10-week crisis that is the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of Hong Kong since its 1997 British handover.
US President Donald Trump added to fears Beijing may be prepared to stage a military intervention to end the unrest, saying on Tuesday his intelligence had confirmed Chinese troop movements toward the Hong Kong border.
The people power movement, which has seen millions take to Hong Kong’s streets, was sparked by opposition to a planned law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
It quickly evolved into a much broader campaign for democratic freedoms, and to stop the growing influence of China’s authoritarian rulers in the semi-autonomous city.
On Monday and Tuesday, thousands of protesters wearing their signature black T-shirts gathered at Hong Kong’s airport, forcing hundreds of flights to be cancelled.
After initially just voicing their demands with peaceful demonstrations, the protesters adopted more aggressive tactics on Tuesday and created barricades with luggage trolleys to block passengers at the departure halls.
Late on Tuesday night, the protests descended into a series of violent confrontations with police, and demonstrators scuffling with passengers desperate to get on flights.
In one particularly ugly scene, a group of protesters ganged up on a policeman and beat him. They stopped their attack when the policeman pulled his gun and pointed it at them, but did not fire.
Demonstrators also turned on two men, fuelled by suspicions within their ranks about undercover police or spies.
The first man was held for about two hours and assaulted before eventually being led away in an ambulance. Riot police briefly deployed pepper spray and batons to beat back protesters while they escorted the vehicle away from the departures hall.