HONG KONG, (AFP): Thousands of Hong Kongers, including flight attendants, held a rally in the airport’s arrivals hall on Friday to “educate” visitors about the demonstrations currently gripping the international finance hub as it braces for another weekend of protests.
The cavernous hall is usually filled with excited friends and relatives waiting to greet loved ones as they make their way out of one of the world’s busiest airports.
But on Friday visitors were greeted by a sea of black-clad protesters chanting anti-government slogans, holding banners and handing out flyers — the information desk plastered in a tapestry of colourful sticky notes.
The rally is the latest bid to keep 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 the city’s 1997 handover.
The protests were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but they have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.
Organisers billed the airport rally as an opportunity to brief arrivals on the political unrest, particularly visitors from mainland China where the state-controlled news has portrayed the protests as a violent, foreign-funded plot to destabilise the motherland.
The demonstration was peaceful and good-humoured, and there were no reports of any disruption to flights.
– ‘Safety announcement’ –
One particularly creative group were using a television to display a satirical version of an airline safety announcement video that details the movement’s demands and warns of protests 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.
Others held “Tourist Warning” signs detailing how police have fired tear gas at protesters and how pro-government thugs attacked demonstrators last Sunday, putting 45 in hospital.
Meryl Yeung, a 29-year-old flight attendant, had just got 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, 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 attack.
“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 our support in rallies.”
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.
“We feel deep regret with the incapability of our (chief executive) Carrie Lam and her team that only play tricks to fool its people,” the union said in a message on Facebook, referring to the city’s unelected leader.
– Bracing for weekend clashes –
More than five hours after the protest began it was still going, a huge crowd of people chanting “Free Hong Kong!” at arrivals.
Tourists had a variety of reactions to the display from baffled and bemused to supportive.
“I feel like I’m back home now because in Chile we have similar issues with the police,” Margarita Duco, a 24-year-old traveller who was in Hong Kong on a layover told AFP.
“The excessive use of violence when there are peaceful manifestations, it’s very common in my country so I can relate with what they are going through,” she added.
Multiple Chinese mainland visitors approached by AFP declined to comment.
Hong Kong is bracing itself for another weekend of rallies and possible clashes.
Police have banned a planned Saturday protest against suspected triad gangs who beat up pro-democracy demonstrators in the rural town of Yuen Long near China’s border.
But messaging channels and forums used by activists suggest people plan to rally there regardless.
Another demonstration on Sunday will end close to China’s Liaison Office, which was pelted with eggs last weekend before police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters hurling projectiles.
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