Transport across Hong Kong has been brought to a standstill and more than 150 flights out of the city have been cancelled due to a city-wide strike, as protesters and residents engaged in mass civil disobedience.
Almost 100 outbound and 100 inbound flights were cancelled at Hong Kong on Monday, due to the strike, with Hong Kong airport posting a warning that “potential circumstances on Monday, 5 August might affect airport operation” and advising passengers to check with their airlines before heading to the airport. Protesters also blocked key roads and trains, as shops and businesses shuttered for the day.
Hong Kong’s leader, chief executive, Carrie Lam, a target of the protests, has disappeared from public view for the last two weeks but is to address the media at 10am local time.
As the city enters its ninth consecutive week of protests, demonstrators have begun shifting strategies while authorities arrest more people and deploy harsher tactics against them. On Sunday night and the early hours of Monday, police clashed with protesters and residents in various locations, after protesters evaded and frustrated the police by holding flashmob demonstrations throughout the city.
Police have arrested more than 60 people and charged 44 of them with rioting, a crime that could mean up to 10 years in prison.
On Monday morning, several lines of the MTR, the rail network serving Hong Kong, were suspended as protesters, many wearing face masks and black clothing, blocked the doors of trains, preventing them departing the stations. There were also reports of discarded umbrellas being wedged in train doors to prevent them from closing, delaying services.
Monday’s planned city-wide protest, which is aimed to disrupt peak-hour travel of commuters, is the fifth consecutive day of mass demonstrations in the city. Simultaneous rallies were planned for seven of Hong Kong’s 18 districts on Monday. Hong Kong has not held a general strike in more than 50 years.
MTR said the service disruption had affected the Tsuen Wan line, Kwun Tong line, Island line, Tung Chung line, East Rail line and West Rail line and had occurred “due to a number of incidents … involving train door obstruction, platform screen door operations”.
The city-wide protests began over an extradition bill to send suspects to China, but have turned into a broader political movement for the semi-autonomous city, with residents demanding the protection of freedoms for Hong Kongers and accountability from the Hong Kong government.
The former British colony, which reverted to Chinese control in 1997, is meant to enjoy a “high degree” of autonomy from the mainland as part of the “one country, two systems” framework, but residents say their freedoms are slowly disappearing under China’s influence.
On Sunday, people blocked Hong Kong’s cross-harbour tunnel and another group of protesters surrounded a police station in the outer district of Kwun Tong, where they shined lasers at the police and threw bricks at the compound. Earlier in the day, after a peaceful rally in Tseung Kwan O in Hong Kong’s New Territories, protesters broke the windows of a police station, using a makeshift catapult to launch objects at the building.
As fears rise that Beijing may intervene and quash the unrest, Hong Kongers have been watching Chinese state media carefully. On Sunday, Xinhua, a state-run news agency, published several articles condemning protesters, including one saying: “The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue.”