World leaders call for calm, talks as protests continue in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong protests look set to continue into its 11th week. (AFP pic)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong braced on Thursday for more mass demonstrations through the weekend, with the weeks-long crisis escalating after pro-democracy protests forced the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights this week and world leaders urging calm.

Police and protesters faced off again on the streets of the financial hub overnight, with riot officers quickly firing tear gas as their response to demonstrators hardens.

Several protests were planned across different districts of Hong Kong from Thursday, including a teachers rally, and one organised by animal lovers upset that their pets were being tear-gassed. The Civil Human Rights Front, which organised million-strong marches in June, set another protest for Sunday.

US President Donald Trump tied a trade agreement with China to a humane resolution of the protests that have disrupted the city for the past 10 weeks, even suggesting that he was willing to meet Xi to discuss the crisis. “I have zero doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?” Trump said on Twitter.

The US State Department said earlier it was deeply concerned about reports that Chinese police forces were gathering near the border with Hong Kong and urged the city’s government to respect freedom of speech. It also issued a travel advisory urging citizens to exercise caution when visiting Hong Kong.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called on Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday to renew talks with protesters to find a peaceful solution, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged China to handle the protests with tact.

China has frequently warned against what it regards as outside interference in an internal issue. China reiterated on Wednesday that Hong Kong’s protest resembled terrorism and more street clashes followed ugly and chaotic scenes at the airport two days ago, when protesters set upon two men they suspected of being government sympathisers.

Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said normal flight operations would resume on Thursday amid heightened security remaining at the city’s international airport. It said on Wednesday an application for protests to be held in the terminal must be made in advance with a ‘Letter of No Objection’ from police.

Protesters have expressed remorse after the last week’s of peaceful sit-ins turned violent at one of the world’s busiest airports. It was not yet clear whether the violent clashes had eroded the broad support the movement has so far attracted in Hong Kong.

The protests have also hit the city’s faltering economy. Business and citizens groups posted full page advertisements in major newspapers to support the government and denounce the violence. The Chinese Securities Association of Hong Kong said the city’s international reputation would be seriously damaged if the violence and unrest were not stopped as soon as possible.

The head of Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment, Lui Che-woo, urged talks to rebuild a harmonious Hong Kong. The protests have affected the neighbouring Chinese territory of Macau, with some visitors avoiding the world’s biggest gambling hub amid transport disruptions and safety concerns.