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Hong Kong protesters rally at airport to 'educate' visitors
HUNDREDS of Hong Kong protesters, including flight attendants, held a rally in the airport's arrival hall on Friday to "educate" visitors about the demonstrations currently roiling the international finance hub as it braces for another weekend of protests.
The cavernous hall is usually filled with excited friends and relatives waiting to greet loved ones as they make their way out of one of the world's busiest airports.
But on Friday, visitors were greeted by a sea of black-clad protesters chanting anti-government slogans, holding banners and handing out flyers.
The rally is the latest bid to keep up pressure on Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leaders after seven weeks of largely peaceful mass demonstrations followed by violent clashes, an unprecedented challenge to Beijing's authority since the city's 1997 handover.
The protests were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but they have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.
On Friday morning, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) advised Singaporeans to avoid travelling to Hong Kong's airport and the rural town of Yuen Long due to the planned protests in those areas.
They should avoid protests and large public gatherings and to stay in touch with friends and family, MFA said. Singaporeans in Hong Kong are also encouraged to eRegister with the ministry so that they can be contacted if need be.
Organisers in Hong Kong billed the airport rally as an opportunity to brief arriving passengers on the political unrest, particularly visitors from mainland China where the state-controlled news has portrayed the protests as a violent, foreign-funded plot to destabilise the motherland.
One particularly creative group of protesters was using a television to display a satirical version of an airline safety announcement video that details protester demands and warns of protests in the city.
"Kindly put on your masks and black t-shirts... when attending the assemblies," the video said, in reference to the colour widely adopted by anti-government protesters.
Others held "Tourist Warning" signs detailing how police have fired tear gas at protesters and how pro-government thugs attacked demonstrators last Sunday, landing 45 in hospital.
Meryl Yeung, a 29-year-old flight attendant, had just got off a flight and joined the protest.
"It's important to come to the airport and tell foreigners what's happening in Hong Kong," she told AFP, saying it was especially vital to make sure people in China are made aware of the protests.
"They have no idea at all, they only get information from one side, they think everyone... coming to a protest, to a rally, are all rioters, or promoting Hong Kong independence," she said.
Yoko Tsang, 29, said the more she travelled around the world as a flight attendant, the more she has come to cherish Hong Kong's freedoms, which she feels are increasingly coming under attack.
"No matter where we go, Hong Kong is always our home and our roots," she said. "Whether it's before or after work, we have to fight for time to demonstrate our support in the rallies."
Cathay Pacific's Flight Attendants Union said it supported the rally and encouraged members to join, a stance that earned it a rebuke in China's state media.
"We feel deep regret with the incapability of our (chief executive) Carrie Lam and her team that only plays tricks to fool its people," the union said in a message on Facebook, referring to the city's unelected leader.
Tourists had a variety of reactions to the display from baffled and bemused to supportive.
"I feel like I'm back home now because in Chile we have similar issues with the police," said Margarita Duco, a 24-year-old avid traveller who was in Hong Kong on a brief layover. "The excessive use of violence when there are peaceful manifestations, it's very common in my country so I can relate to what they are going through," she added.
Hong Kong is bracing itself for another weekend of rallies and possible clashes. Police have banned a planned Saturday protest against suspected triad gangs who beat up pro-democracy demonstrators in Yuen Long near China's border.
But messaging channels and forums used by activists suggest people plan to rally there regardless.
Another rally on Sunday will end close to China's Liaison Office, which was pelted with eggs last weekend before police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters hurling projectiles. AFP