Hong Kong, Aug 5 (IANS) Chaos descended over Hong Kong and emotions ran high on Monday, hours after the launch of a citywide strike that disrupted train services, forced airport authorities to cancel flights, with protesters occupying roads and the police using teargas to disperse stubborn crowds, often to little avail.
A total of 82 people were arrested, the police said, hours after the launch of the city’s first general strike in 52 years aimed at pressuring the government to “properly” deal with an escalating political crisis that has rocked Hong Kong since June.
Commuter chaos, slogan chanting at rallies, bickering among citizens, confrontation between the police and protesters, and the use of teargas by police and increasingly violent moves by protesters were the order of the day, as discontent with the government and the police – and, for some citizens, with anti-government protesters – continued to intensify throughout the day.
Riot police were deployed to multiple areas across the territory and teargas was used to disperse protesters in at least six areas: Tin Shui Wai, Wong Tai Sin, Tai Po, Tsuen Wan, Tsim Sha Tsui and Admiralty, where the government headquarters is located, Efe news reported.
The day began when activists thronged the platforms of various subway stations during morning rush hour and prevented train doors from closing, causing temporary delays to train services on eight subway lines.
Road traffic on numerous roads also bore the brunt of the protesters’ non-cooperative movement.
With the non-cooperative movement and the city-wide strike, protesters sought to pressure the government to respond to a series of claims that originally consisted only of the withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill, which, according to lawyers and activists, would have allowed Beijing access to fugitives who had sought refuge in the city.
At the airport, over 230 inbound and outbound flights were cancelled, as over 3,000 aviation employees and civil airlines officials were on leave for the day, according to the Airport Authority.
Most of the cancelled flights were with local carriers Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines. Besides these airlines, Cathay Dragon and HK Express also advised passengers to check before they travelled to the airport on Monday.
The morning chaos was followed by escalating tension and clashes between protesters and the police in the afternoon.
Although the local media reported that an estimated half a million of Hongkongers joined the general strike, many people did not, resulting in quarrels between disgruntled commuters and protesters in different areas.
Police stations became one of the primary targets of masked protesters. Demonstrators hurled a petrol bomb into Wong Tai Sin Police Station, and others threw bricks, stones, paint bombs and eggs at a station in Tsuen Wan.
Protesters also set some objects on fire outside Sha Tin Police Station.
In Admiralty, hundreds of young protesters occupied the roads adjacent to the government headquarters. The police fired multiple rounds of teargas, but the protesters stayed put.
While the general strike was the main theme of the day, it was the territory-wide chaos that got the most attention, reflecting a widening rift between people and the Hong Kong authorities.
In her first media address in two weeks, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said the protesters’ actions had challenged the principle of “one country, two systems” and were threatening prosperity and stability in Hong Kong.
She accused activists of using the extradition bill as a “cover” for their “real goals” and added that she would be not be stepping down — one of the demands made by protesters.