HONG KONG – Hong Kong protesters on Sunday shifted their focus back to the city's airport, hindering access to one of the world's busiest international transit hubs, prompting clashes with police, transportation snarls and confusion.
Their action, a "stress test" to force the government to respond their demands after months of sustained demonstrations, caused airlines to delay and cancel flights, and left passengers with few ways to get to the airport. Many got off at nearby bus terminals and just walked.
Organizers said they hoped to hold similar actions every weekend if the government does not give in to their demands.
"The airport is vital to the economy of Hong Kong," said one of the organizers of Sunday's action. "The most impactful way to express our five demands is to go to the airport."
By the afternoon, an express train connecting the city to Hong Kong International Airport was suspended — first because of a decision from authorities, and later because demonstrators had flung objects on the track. Protesters began marching to a subway stop close to the airport, blocking a major access road.
Kiko Escuadro, a 27-year-old tourist heading back to Manila, said the closures forced him to walk an hour and a half from a train station to the airport
He did not mind the inconvenience, however, and made his flight.
"I understand what they are fighting for," Escuadro said. "They are young people fighting for their future."
The rallies followed intense clashes between protesters and police in Hong Kong on Saturday, a day that ended with fear and violence at subway stops when riot police stormed trains filled with commuters going about their evening, swinging batons and making arrests.
On Sunday, police were waiting at the piers for ferries from Lantau Island, where the airport is located. They stopped and searched those who got off the boats, collected bags of evidence and wrote down identification numbers.
With other public transportation largely shut down, hundreds walked along the highway for hours across Lantau Island back toward Hong Kong Island.
Eventually, they were met at a toll plaza by dozens of volunteer drivers who answered calls put out on Telegram using the hashtag #backhome to assist demonstrators. Drivers filled their cars to shuttle protesters away; other demonstrators boarded buses.
After 13 straight weekends of protest, the rupture between Hong Kong police and civilians appears to be solidifying, with no end in sight to the crisis. The government refuses to make concessions, and protesters have been undeterred by mass arrests and police use of force.
Hong Kong International Airport, a major Asian hub ranked among the world's most efficient, has been the focus of previous demonstrations. Protests against a proposed law to allow extraditions to mainland China have attracted widespread support across the semiautonomous Chinese territory. Since returning to mainland control in 1997, Hong Kong has fought to protect its democratic freedoms and cultural uniqueness.
A demonstration at the airport last month turned ugly as protesters held two Chinese men — one a reporter for the Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper — and blocked passengers from boarding their flights.
A court injunction has banned further gatherings at the airport, so protesters on Sunday focused their action on a bus stop outside the terminal and on roads around the airport. Terminals were heavily fortified by police, who were letting in only travelers with boarding passes.
Hong Kong police marching through the airport on Sunday afternoon were met with boos and jeers. Relations between the force and most city residents appear to be at an all-time low.
China has threatened military action and held less-than-subtle crowd control and riot drills across the border.
Still, it is the Hong Kong police who have been the main tool for suppressing the protests. Saturday night's attacks on demonstrators, many of which were caught on video, alarmed residents, as the police have been dramatically increasing their use of force.