Hong Kong police have used tear gas to disperse protesters outside a police station, hours after flights resumed at the city’s airport following two days of disruption that descended into clashes between demonstrators and officers.
In the blue-collar Sham Shui Po area, police fired tear gas on Wednesday night at a group of protesters rallying outside the station.
The protesters had gathered to burn fake currency and incense as a way to show their opposition to the police during the month-long Hungry Ghost Festival, when offerings are made to ward off the spirits of ancestors.
Police armed with riot shields and batons marched through the area. Officers carried warning flags and fired tear gas as they advanced, but protesters had already scrambled away.
Meanwhile, three dozen demonstrators remained camped at the airport arrivals area. They asked travellers and the general public for forgiveness after their blockade previously turned into chaotic and frenzied violence.
While the movement’s supporters still have street protests planned, it is unclear what their next move is or whether they will be able to find new rallying sites to keep the pressure on authorities.
Protesters spread pamphlets and posters on the floor in one section of the terminal but were not impeding travellers. Online, they also circulated letters and promotional materials apologising for the inconveniences during the past five days of the airport occupation.
“It is not our intention to cause delays to your travels and we do not want to cause inconvenience to you,” said an emailed statement from a group of protesters.
“We ask for your understanding and forgiveness as young people in Hong Kong continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”
The airport’s management said it had obtained “an interim injunction to restrain persons from unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering” with airport operations.
It said an area of the airport had been set aside for demonstrations, but no protests would be allowed outside the designated area.
Additional identification checks were in place, but check-in counters were open and flights appeared to be operating normally.
The demonstration had resulted in more than 100 flight cancellations on Tuesday and about 200 on Monday.
Hong Kong police said they arrested five people during clashes at the airport Tuesday night.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Mak Chin-ho said the men, aged between 17 and 28, were arrested for illegal assembly. Two were also charged with assaulting a police officer and possessing weapons as riot police sought to clear the terminal.
Hong Kong law permits life imprisonment for those who commit violent acts or acts that might interfere with flight safety at an airport.
More than 74 million travellers pass through Hong Kong’s airport each year, making it “not an appropriate place of protest”, Mr Mak said.
“Hong Kong police have always facilitated peaceful and orderly protests over the years, but the extremely radical and violent acts have certainly crossed the line and are to be most severely condemned,” he said.
“The police pledge to all citizens of Hong Kong that we will take steps to bring all culprits to justice.”
That was backed up by a statement on a new government website set up to provide the latest information on the crisis, which said: “The police will take relentless enforcement action to bring the persons involved to justice.”
Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled 272 flights in the past two days, affecting more than 55,000 passengers, while 622 departures and arrivals went ahead.
Cathay also said it has fired two pilots in an apparent response to their involvement in activity related to pro-democracy protests. They included one pilot who is “currently involved in legal proceedings”.
The airport disruptions grew from a summer of demonstrations aimed at what many Hong Kong residents see as an increasing erosion of the freedoms they were promised in 1997 when Communist Party-ruled mainland China took over what had been a British colony.
More than 700 protesters have been arrested in total since the start of mass protests in early June.
The demonstrators demand that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam steps down and scraps proposed legislation under which some suspects could be sent to mainland China, where critics say they could face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.
Ms Lam has rejected calls for dialogue, saying the protesters are threatening to push their home into an “abyss”.