Thousands of protesters, dressed mostly in black, have held a rally at Hong Kong‘s international airport to “educate” visitors about the demonstrations currently gripping the semi-autonomous city-state as it braces for another weekend of protests.
Flight attendants and airport staff joined protesters on Friday, with many sitting on the ground in the airport’s main arrivals hall. Some held protest banners, chanted anti-government slogans and handed out leaflets as travellers looked on.
One group used a television to show a satirical version of an airline safety announcement video detailing the protesters’ demands and warning of demonstrations in the city.
“Kindly put on your masks and black t-shirts … when attending the assemblies,” the video said, in reference to the colour widely adopted by anti-government protesters.
There were no reports of unrest or disruption to flights during Friday’s protest, which was the latest bid to keep up pressure on Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leaders after seven weeks of largely peaceful mass demonstrations followed by violent clashes.
An unprecedented challenge to Beijing’s authority since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from the United Kingdom, the protests were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.
Organisers billed the rally at the airport – one of the world’s busiest – as an opportunity to brief arrivals on the political unrest, particularly visitors from mainland China where state-controlled news has portrayed the protests as a violent, foreign-funded plot to destabilise China.
Meryl Yeung, a 29-year-old flight attendant, had just gotten off a plane and joined the protest.
“It’s important to come to the airport and tell foreigners what’s happening in Hong Kong,” she told AFP news agency, saying it was especially vital to make sure people in China are made aware of the protests.
“They have no idea at all, they only get information from one side. They think everyone coming to a protest, to a rally, are all rioters or promoting Hong Kong independence,” she said.
Yoko Tsang, 29, said the more she travelled around the world as a flight attendant, the more she has come to cherish Hong Kong’s freedoms, which she feels are increasingly under threat.
“No matter where we go, Hong Kong is always our home and our roots,” she said. “Whether it’s before or after work, we have to fight for time to show support in rallies”.
Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific’s Flight Attendants Union said it supported the rally and encouraged members to join, a stance that earned it a rebuke in China’s state media.
The hours-long protest was greeted with mixed reactions from tourists.
Margarita Duco, a 24-year-old from Chile, said the demonstrations reminded her of her own country where police brutality has also been a flashpoint.
“The excessive use of violence when there are peaceful manifestations, it’s very common in my country so I can relate to what they are going through,” she told AFP.
Several mainland Chinese visitors declined to comment when approached by the news agency.
The airport protest came ahead of more demonstrations planned for Saturday despite a government ban.
Saturday’s protest is set to start in the Yuen Long district, where protesters were attacked while on the way home from demonstrations last weekend.
Protesters say paid gangs from the locality were responsible for the attacks and accuse the police of not protecting them.