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Hong Kong Airport Resumes Operations After Court Injunction Limiting Protests

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Demonstrators sit and lie on the arrival hall floor at Hong Kong International Airport on Wednesday.
Paul Yeung, Bloomberg via Getty Images

Demonstrators sit and lie on the arrival hall floor at Hong Kong International Airport on Wednesday.

Updated at 10:27 a.m. ET

Operations at Hong Kong International Airport appeared to be returning to normal on Wednesday after riot police used batons and pepper spray to break up days of protests there that had brought flights to a standstill.

A few dozen pro-democracy demonstrators remained in the airport's arrival area following the police action late Tuesday and a court order restricting protests to two designated areas in the departure hall, according to The South China Post.

The airport said it had "an interim injunction to restrain persons from unlawfully and willfully obstructing or interfering" with operations.

There were several dozen flight cancellations on Wednesday after the airport — one of the world's busiest — had been forced to effectively shut down on Monday and Tuesday, when protesters poured into the terminal building, blocking check-in and immigration screening.

The airport sit-in that began on Friday follows 10 weeks of protests throughout the city triggered by a proposed law to send some accused of crimes in Hong Kong to mainland China to face justice. The Hong Kong government has backed off the extradition bill, but activists want it completely withdrawn.

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Since then, protesters have added old and new grievances, including that Hong Kong's China-appointed chief executive, Carrie Lam, step down and be replaced by a freely elected leader and that police be held accountable for what protesters say has been their heavy-handed approach to dealing with demonstrators.

On Tuesday, Lam said the protesters had caused "panic and chaos" in the city. Within hours, all outbound flights at the airport were canceled and police clad in riot gear moved into the terminal, using pepper spray to disperse protesters who used luggage carts as makeshift barricades. Some of the activists were handcuffed and led away by officers.

Hong Kong police condemned what they said were acts of violence by protesters, who they said "harassed and assaulted a visitor and a journalist."

One of them was a reporter for China's Global Times newspaper and, according to Reuters, protesters believed the other to be a Chinese agent sent to infiltrate the protests. A police spokesman acknowledged that authorities had disguised themselves as protesters as part of a "decoy operation."

Five people were detained by police.

On Wednesday, some of the protesters put up a sign in the airport that offered an apology to tourists for the previous day's disruption. "We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions," the message reads. "Please accept our apology."

Some of the protesters have started to wear eye patches stained with red. It's a reference to a young woman who sustained an eye injury earlier this week at a protest, which has become a major rallying point for the demonstrators. The woman was allegedly hit with a beanbag round fired by police, though police have said there is no proof of that.

Meanwhile in Beijing, China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office condemned what it called "near-terrorist acts" by protesters at the airport.

In Washington, President Trump weighed in on the protests Tuesday by tweeting: "Our intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!

Trump, who had earlier adopted the Hong Kong government's line on the demonstrations, calling them "riots," described events in Hong Kong as "very tough," and expressed hope that everybody could work "for liberty" without anyone getting hurt or killed.

NPR's Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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