HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong is bracing for further anti-government demonstrations and a “stress test” of the city’s international airport this weekend, as authorities warn against acts that could disrupt travel operations.
Multiple protests are planned for Friday, including a march by accountants to government headquarters and a “Baltic Chain” event where protesters will join hands across different districts in the Chinese territory.
In 1989 an estimated two million people joined arms across three Baltic states in a protest against Soviet Union rule which became known as the Baltic Way or Baltic Chain.
Nearly three months of anti-government rallies have plunged the city into crisis, drawing in corporate casualties such as Cathay Pacific <0293.HK> amid mounting Chinese scrutiny over the involvement of some of the carrier’s staff in protests.
The Hong Kong carrier confirmed on Friday that Rebecca Sy, the head of Cathay Dragon’s Airlines Flight Attendants’ Association, was no longer with the company. Her departure follows the resignation of Cathay CEO Rupert Hogg last week.
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions said it will hold a press conference later on Friday to provide details of Sy’s departure.
The demonstrations show no sign of abating, with activists planning to disrupt transport to the city’s airport at the weekend.
“Go to the airport by different means, including MTR, Airport Bus, Taxi, Bike and Private Car to increase pressure on airport transport,” they wrote online.
Hong Kong’s international airport, one of the world’s busiest, was forced to close temporarily last week and hundreds of flights were cancelled or rescheduled when protesters and police clashed.
The Airport Authority on Friday published a half-page advert in major newspapers urging young people to “love Hong Kong” and said it opposed acts which “blocked and interfered with the operation of the airport”. It said it would continue to work to maintain a smooth operation.
The protests, which escalated in June over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial, have grown into wider calls for political freedom.
The demonstrations have plunged the Asian financial hub into its deepest crisis since its handover to Beijing in 1997 and pose one of the biggest challenges to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
The unrest has been fuelled by worries about the erosion of freedoms under the “one country, two systems” formula adopted after Hong Kong’s return to China but not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest.
The protests are already taking a toll on the city’s economy and tourism, with the special administrative region on the cusp of its first recession in a decade.
Corporates including the big banks and property developers have called for a restoration of law and order while exhibitors are seeing widespread cancellations of events.
In the most recent case, international jewellers have sought the rescheduling of a huge trade fair with up to 40% of exhibitors threatening to pull out.
Demonstrators have five demands: withdraw the extradition bill, establish an independent inquiry into the protests and perceived police brutality, stop describing the protests as “rioting”, waiver charges against those arrested, and resume political reform.
Beijing has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills in Shenzhen, which sits on mainland China’s border with Hong Kong.
Canada has warned that increased screening of travellers’ digital devices had been reported at border crossings between mainland China and Hong Kong. The Canadian government updated its entry and exit guidance for China on its website to include the advisory on Thursday.
The Canadian embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
China warned Ottawa not to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that Canada was paying close attention to events in Hong Kong, and called for restraint and respect for human rights.
(Reporting by Donny Kwok in Hong Kong, Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Jamie Freed in Singapore; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry)