Three-day protest kicks off at Hong Kong’s airport

Pro-democracy activists have kicked off three days of rallies at Hong Kong’s airport, hoping to win international support from arriving passengers as the protests that have rocked the city enter a third month.

Several hundreds of demonstrators, mostly wearing black shirts, have started to gather at the arrival area of Chek Lap Kok Airport early afternoon on Friday — the second time they have brought their message to the international travel hub.

Demonstrators promoted it on social media with a mock boarding pass reading “HK to freedom” and “warm pick-up to guests to HK”.

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Extra security measures have been put in place at the airport ahead of the rallies, with authorities preventing anyone without a boarding pass from entering the check-in area.

The gatherings, expected to run over three days, have not been authorised, but the last demonstration at the airport passed off peacefully without causing flight disruptions.

Hong Kong’s Airport Authority earlier said that it was aware of the planned rallies but “the airport will operate normally.”

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Hong Kong, said the main worry among Hong Kong authorities is not the protest at the airport, but the other unauthorised demonstrations expected across the city throughout the day and the coming weekend. 

“You’ve got to remember that many protesters go out, and they protest quite peacefully. The concern for the authorities is, as we go through the day, that there is a hardcore group of thousands of protesters, who seemed to get involved in clashes with the authorities.”

Meanwhile, an email attributed to an unidentified government spokesman said the government and the travel industry were working to minimise disruptions and “all stand ready to welcome and assist visitors to Hong Kong any time.”

Drop in tourist arrivals

But on Thursday, the government conceded that tourist arrivals dropped 26 percent at the end of last month compared to last year and were continuing to fall in August.

The travel industry accounts for 4.5 percent of the financial hub’s economy and employs about 2500,000 people, or about 7 percent of the total working population.

The impact could be as bad or worse than occurred during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, Travel Industry Council chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.

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Wong said cancellations could see hotel revenues in August drop by 40 percent against the same period last year.

Commerce Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah said 22 countries and regions, including the U.S., have issued travel warnings for Hong Kong.

On July 26, thousands of Hong Kongers, including flight attendants, also rallied at the airport to “educate” visitors about the protests that have gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The weeks of demonstrations pose the biggest threat to Beijing’s authority since Hong Kong’s handover from the British in 1997.

And as protests have become increasingly violent, several countries have upgraded their travel warnings for Hong Kong, with Washington this week urging its citizens to “exercise increased caution.”

The protests that began in opposition to a plan to allow extradition to mainland China have morphed into a broader movement seeking to reverse a slide in freedoms in the city.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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