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HK protesters denounce Cathay Pacific for dismissing crew

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A doll in Cathay Pacific uniform inside a shopping mall during a rally to support the airline's staff.

Hong Kong

HUNDREDS of people protested in Hong Kong on Wednesday to denounce Cathay Pacific Airways for dismissing crew taking part in or supporting anti-government rallies that have swept the Chinese-ruled city for weeks.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) switched the protest venue, originally planned to be outside the airline's airport headquarters, Cathay City, to the central financial district after police refused permission.

The airport was forced to close two weeks ago after protesters thronged the arrivals hall for days, grounding about 1,000 flights and occasionally clashing with police.

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Cathay was targeted for sacking 20 pilots and cabin crew and what staff have described as "white terror", a phrase used to describe anonymous acts that create a climate of fear.

"Revoke termination, stop terrorising CX staff," proclaimed a black banner in English at the protest site where at least 2,000 gathered peacefully. "Uphold our freedom of speech."

CX is airline code for Cathay.

The airline has been caught in the crosswinds between the authorities in Beijing and protesters who have staged sometimes violent demonstrations since June that have grown into the biggest challenge for authorities in the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China has denounced the protests and accused the United States and Britain of interfering in its affairs in Hong Kong.

It has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention is possible.

Rebecca Sy, former head of a flight attendants' association, said she was fired without explanation after managers saw her Facebook account.

"We never faced any disciplinary action from the company before. How come now they just terminate me without any valid reason? By simply showing me those printouts of my own private Facebook account?"

Cathay's director for corporate affairs, James Tong, said the Civil Aviation Administration of China had issued a directive "with regards to new safety and security measures" with which the airline was bound to comply.

"We fully support the upholding of the Basic Law and all the rights and freedoms afforded by it. At the same time, we are also required to adhere to all of our regulatory duties, including those prescribed by the authorities in mainland China. REUTERS