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Hong Kong airport resumes operations Wednesday morning, but protesters remain

Hong Kong's airport resumed operations on Wednesday, rescheduling hundreds of flights that had been disrupted over the past two days.

Police have arrested 5 since the protesters took their movement to the main terminal

Armed police patrol the departure hall of the airport in Hong Kong Wednesday morning after the previous night's clashes with protesters. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Hong Kong's airport resumed operations on Wednesday, rescheduling hundreds of flights that had been disrupted over the past two days as protesters clashed with riot police in a deepening crisis in the Chinese-controlled city.

About 30 protesters remained at the airport early in the day while workers scrubbed it clean of blood and debris from overnight. Check-in counters reopened to queues of hundreds of weary travellers who had waited overnight for their flights.

Hong Kong police say they have arrested five people over the past two days in the airport, for unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers and possessing weapons, bringing the number arrested since the protests began in June to more than 600.

Officials said in a statement that some protesters detained, harassed and assaulted a traveller and a journalist, and obstructed ambulance workers from taking the two men to the hospital. Other protesters attacked a police officer and snatched a baton from him, the officials said.

A government statement condemned the acts, saying they "have overstepped the bottom line of a civilized society."

Hong Kong's busy airport was the latest setting for large-scale pro-democracy protests that have rocked the city for months, with authorities cancelling dozens of flights on Monday and Tuesday. Demonstrators said they would return Wednesday. 

A police officer secures Terminal 1 after a scuffle with pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong's International Airport on Tuesday. Local police say they have made arrests in the wake of the demonstrations. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flag carrier, warned customers to "postpone non-essential travel from Hong Kong" on Tuesday and asked people to stay away from the airport. Airline authorities also said they will "continue to implement flight rescheduling" on Wednesday, which will further affect flight movements. 

Clashes in the airport broke out on Tuesday evening between police and protesters after an injured person was taken out of the main terminal by medics. Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters, and riot police moved in, pushing some protesters back and using pepper spray at times.

The central government in Beijing ominously characterized the protest movement as something approaching "terrorism" that posed an "existential threat" to the local citizenry.

For a second consecutive day, protesters of China's grip on Hong Kong disrupted air travel. 0:56

"Lots of Canadians and other local Hong Kong people are concerned about the general safety," Edward Chan, a Canadian resident of Hong Kong, told CBC News. "We're not sure whether we can still trust the police when we are walking down the street.

"I think the biggest concern right now is we're not too certain about what is going to happen. How is the Hong Kong government going to deal with the situation?"

Britain condemned the violence in Hong Kong and encouraged dialogue amid the ongoing political crisis.

"Concerning to see what's happening in Hong Kong and the worrying pictures of clashes between police & protesters at the airport," Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said on Twitter.

"We condemn the violence & encourage constructive dialogue to find a peaceful way forward."

Pro-democracy protesters block the entrance to the airport terminals after a scuffle with police at Hong Kong's international airport late on Tuesday. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or suspended as the protesters staged a second sit-in at the complex. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump also expressed concern about the situation, telling reporters he hopes it works out for everybody, including China, and that there is a peaceful resolution in which "nobody gets hurt."

On Twitter, he cited U.S. intelligence as saying China's government was moving troops to its border with Hong Kong, and urged calm as clashes continued between protesters and authorities.

It was not immediately clear whether Trump was reporting fresh troop movements or movements near the border already reported in the media.

Paramilitary police assembling across border

An earlier report was that paramilitary police were assembling across the border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises in what some saw as a threat to increase force brought against the mostly young protesters who have turned out in their thousands over the past 10 weeks.

While China has yet to threaten sending in the army — as it did against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989 — the exercises in Shenzhen were a further demonstration of its ability to crush the demonstrations, even at the cost to Hong Kong's reputation as a safe haven for business and international exchange.

Riot police use pepper spray to disperse protesters Tuesday night during a demonstration inside the Hong Kong airport after an injured person was taken out by medics. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Online images showed armoured personnel carriers belonging to the People's Armed Police driving in convoy Monday toward the location of the exercises just across the border from Hong Kong.

The People's Liberation Army also stations a garrison in Hong Kong, which recently released a video showing its units combating actors dressed as protesters.

Watch a segment from the Hong Kong garrison's video:

China's People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong released a video showing footage of 'anti-riot' exercises and featured a red flag with a warning similar to what Hong Kong police have long used during protests. 0:23

The demonstrators have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's administration to respond to their demands, including that she step down and entirely scrap legislation that could have seen criminal suspects sent to mainland China to face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.

While Beijing tends to define terrorism broadly, extending it especially to nonviolent movements opposing government policies in minority regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, the government's usage of the term in relation to Hong Kong raised the prospect of the application of heightened violence and the possible suspension of legal rights for those detained.

'Path of no return'

Lam said the ongoing instability, chaos and violence have placed Hong Kong on a "path of no return."

Demonstrators have in recent days focused on their demand for an independent inquiry into what they call the police's abuse of power and negligence. That followed reports and circulating video footage of violent arrests and injuries sustained by protesters.

Some protesters have thrown bricks, eggs and flaming objects at police stations, and police said they arrested another 149 demonstrators over the weekend, bringing the total to more than 700 since early June. Police say several officers have suffered burns, bruises and eye damage inflicted by protesters.

Lam told reporters Tuesday that dialogue would only begin when the violence stopped. She reiterated her support for the police and said they have had to make on-the-spot decisions under difficult circumstances, using "the lowest level of force."

The Chinese city of Shenzhen is located across the border from Hong Kong. Paramilitary police were assembling in Shenzhen for exercises in what some saw as a threat to the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. (CBC News)

She did not elaborate on what steps her government will take toward reconciliation.

The protests had until Monday been mostly confined to specific neighbourhoods, police stations and government offices. However, the airport protest had a direct impact on business travel and tourism. Analysts said it could make foreign investors think twice about setting up shop in Hong Kong, which has long prided itself as being Asia's leading business city with convenient air links for executives travelling across the region.

Hong Kong was promised democratic rights not enjoyed in Communist Party-ruled mainland China when Beijing took over what had been a British colony in 1997, but some have accused Beijing of steadily eroding their freedoms. Those doubts are fuelling the protests, which build on a previous opposition movement that shut down much of the city for seven weeks in 2014 that eventually fizzled out and whose leaders have been imprisoned.

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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