Hong Kong was bracing for another volatile weekend, with anti-government protests planned across the city on Saturday, including one at the international airport for a second day.
Increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious political crisis for decades, posing a serious challenge to the central government in Beijing.
Protests planned for Saturday include one in Tai Po, a town in the north of the territory, and gatherings of elderly Hong Kongers and families.
Hong Kong’s airport was also expecting a protest that is set to continue on Sunday. A group of 1,000 activists occupied the airport’s arrivals hall on Friday but did not disrupt flights.
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on Friday said the economy was being undermined by the protests, which began in June and have become increasingly violent.
China, meanwhile, demanded that the city’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways suspend staff involved in the demonstrations. One of its pilots was arrested last week.
Huarong International, the investment arm in Hong Kong of China Huarong Asset Management, has instructed staff not to fly Cathay Pacific if there are other options, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters and confirmed by a source at the company.
Lam’s warning about the economy and China’s targeting of a key Hong Kong business mark a toughening stance by authorities as they grapple with Hong Kong’s deepest crisis in decades.
Young people have been at the forefront of the protests, worried about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong by China but also concerned with issues such as the wealth disparities in the financial centre.
However, older people have also been appearing at the protests.
“There are clashes in the recent protests and many parents are worried,” said Fion Yim, 35, representative of the organizing committee for what was billed as a family protest on Saturday. “The freedom to protect our children is very important. We hope to provide a safer place for parents and their kids to participate in rallies, and to voice their concerns.”
The protests began after Hong Kong’s government tried introducing an extradition bill that would have allowed defendants to be sent to the mainland for trial.
The bill has been suspended, but protesters have stepped up their demands and are now calling for greater democracy and Lam’s resignation.
The protests have been condemned by the central government in Beijing. China has also accused foreign powers of fueling the unrest.
On Friday, the U.S. State Department said that Chinese media reports about a U.S. diplomat who met with Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders “have gone from irresponsible to dangerous” and must stop.
“Chinese authorities know full well, our accredited consular personnel are just doing their jobs, just like diplomats from every other country,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a tweet.
On Thursday, Ortagus called China a “thuggish regime” for disclosing photographs and personal details of the diplomat.