Increasingly violent protests have plunged the Asian financial hub into its most serious political crisis in decades, posing a challenge to the central government in Beijing.
On Monday more than 200 flights were cancelled and the airport was effectively shut down with no flights taking off or landing. Hong Kong airport is one of the world’s busiest.
Passengers have been forced to seek accommodation in the city while airlines struggle to find other ways to get them to their destinations.
The airport protests and their disruption are an escalation of 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.
Those doubts are fuelling the protests, which build on a previous opposition movement that shut down much of the city for seven weeks in 2014 that eventually fizzled out and whose leaders have been imprisoned.
The central government in Beijing ominously characterised the current protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” that posed an “existential threat” to the local citizenry.
Meanwhile, paramilitary police were assembling across the border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises in what some saw as a threat to increase force brought against the mostly young protesters who have turned out in their thousands over the past 10 weeks.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged Hong Hong authorities to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of its forces firing tear-gas at protesters in ways banned by international law.
“Officials can be seen firing tear-gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individual protesters on multiple occasions, creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury,” Bachelet said in a statement on Tuesday.
The disruption at the airport comes after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the city’s recovery from protests that have swept the Asian financial hub could take a long time and she would be responsible for rebuilding its economy “after the violence eases”.
Protesters have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Lam’s administration to respond to their demands. No new violence was reported, although the city is on edge after more than two months of near-daily and increasingly bloody confrontations between protesters and police.
Demonstrators have called for an independent inquiry into alleged police negligence and abuse of power.
Some have thrown bricks and flaming objects at police stations.
Lam said dialogue would begin only when the violence stopped. She reiterated her support for the police and said they have had to make decisions under difficult circumstances, using ‘‘the lowest level of force’’.
‘‘After the violence has been stopped, and the chaotic situation that we are seeing could subside,’’ Lam said, ‘‘I as the Chief Executive will be responsible to rebuild Hong Kong’s economy … to help Hong Kong to move on.’’
She did not elaborate on what steps her government would take towards reconciliation.
Hong Kong was promised certain democratic rights when China took over the British colony in 1997, but protesters have accused Beijing of eroding their freedoms.