HONG KONG -- Flights from Hong Kong's airport were canceled on Monday afternoon on the fourth day of protests in the main terminal building, a move that came after demonstrations in the territory turned increasingly violent over the weekend.
A statement issued by Airport Authorities at 3:30 p.m. local time said all departure flights had been canceled for the rest of the day, except those for which the check-in process had been completed.
"Airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today," the statement read. "The traffic to the airport is very congested, and the car park spaces at all car parks are already full. Members of the public are advised not to come to the airport."
Thousands of protesters continue to gather at the airport following a three-day sit-in from Friday to gain support from the international community. The Monday rally was not approved by the police.
The suspension of flights came after Cathay Pacific threatened to fire staff who take part in the demonstrations.
"In the current context, there will be disciplinary consequences for employees who support or participate in illegal protests," Cathay Pacific Group CEO Rupert Hogg said in an internal email obtained by Nikkei Asian Review. "These consequences could be serious and may include termination of employments."
The airline suspended a pilot arrested during anti-government protests in Hong Kong and fired two airport employees citing misconduct on Saturday. It also said it would bar "overly radical" staff from crewing flights to the mainland. Shares in the airline fell to a 10-year-low on Monday.
On Tuesday morning, the airport sought to resume normal operations despite calls among protesters to return in force in the afternoon.
Following Monday’s shutdown, handfuls of stranded transfer passengers were sleeping on the floor of each arrival gate as dawn broke. Space between luggage belts in turn was filled with rows of the baggage that was supposed to go with them.
In place of shuttle drivers carrying hotel signs, a couple dozen protesters with posters greeted passengers coming out of customs. Some followed travelers to explain their cause. The departure hall itself was blanketed with more posters, many attacking the police for their handling of weekend demonstrations. “Hong Kong is no longer safe,” read one.
Violence intensified across the city over the weekend, as police fired tear gas inside two rail stations and demonstrators hurled petrol bombs at officers.
In an urgent news conference hosted by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs under the State Council in Beijing, spokesperson Yang Guang said there were "signs of terrorism" as he condemned protesters for several attacks on police officers on Sunday.
"The radical protesters were using extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers in the past few days, which constituted very serious crimes," he said.
Intense clashes broke out on Sunday in several districts on Hong Kong island, Kowloon and the New Territories. For the first time, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets inside a train station -- a move that medical experts say could threaten the lives of passengers. About 40 people were injured, two seriously, according to the Hospital Authority.
The escalation during the tenth straight weekend of unrest followed calls from Beijing and the Hong Kong government to stop the violence and restore public order. Carrie Lam, the city's chief executive, last week warned that the protests risk hurting the territory's economy more than the 2007-2008 global financial crisis.
About 700 people have been arrested since the protests began in June, the police said Monday.
While the demonstrations led to the suspension of a bill that would allow Beijing to extradite Hong Kong citizens to mainland China, people continue to hold rallies against the erosion of the "one country, two systems" arrangement. Their demands include the setting up of an independent commission to investigate the police's use of force during protests.
A spokesperson for MTR Corp., operator of the city's railways, said the company is "disappointed" at the police's action, and urged the force to prioritize the safety of its passengers and employees.
"There were MTR employees and passengers inside the station [when the police fired the rubber bullets]," the spokesperson said. "The company is very disappointed as such a move was highly likely to threaten their safety."
The Hong Kong government condemned a protester who hurled petrol bombs directly at a police officer near Tsim Sha Tsui police station, injuring both of his legs. Previously, police cars had been the target of petrol bombs.
"We are outraged by the violent protesters' behaviors which showed a total disregard of the law, posing a serious threat to the safety of police officers and other members of the public. We severely condemn the acts," a government spokesperson said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong police on Monday demonstrated an anti-riot water cannon as a warning to protesters. The cannons have yet to be used since they were purchased in the wake of pro-democracy protests in 2014.