All flights in and out of Hong Kong were cancelled on Monday after thousands of pro-democracy protesters flooded the city’s airport to denounce police violence.
The abrupt shutdown at one of the world’s busiest hubs came as the Chinese government signalled its rising anger at the protesters, denouncing some of the violent demonstrations as “terrorism”.
The developments marked yet another dramatic escalation in a 10-week crisis that had already become the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of Hong Kong since the 1997 British handover.
A crowd of protesters that authorities said numbered more than 5,000 descended on Hong Kong airport on Monday carrying placards and chanting slogans denouncing police violence.
Although other rallies had been held at the transport hub over the previous three days, the airport authority said Monday’s one had caused significant chaos.
“Airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today,” it said in a statement.
“Other than the departure flights that have completed the check-in process and the arrival flights that are already heading to Hong Kong, all other flights have been cancelled for the rest of today.”
It warned that traffic to the airport was “very congested” and the facility’s car parks were completely full.
“Members of the public are advised not to come to the airport.”
Loudspeakers at the airport were periodically telling people: “All flights have been cancelled, please leave as soon as possible”.
“Hong Kong’s radical demonstrators have repeatedly used extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers, which already constitutes a serious violent crime, and also shows the first signs of terrorism emerging,” said Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council.
“This wantonly tramples on Hong Kong’s rule of law and social order.”
The protests have infuriated Beijing, which has lashed out at the city’s carrier Cathay Pacific, imposing new regulations on the airline that ban staff sympathetic with the demonstrations from flying to or over the mainland.
Cathay has found itself caught in the crossfire in the increasingly bitter standoff in the city, and warned staff on Monday that they could be fired if they participated or supported “illegal protests”.