The black-clad demonstrators have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Lam’s administration to respond to their demands, including that she step down and scrap proposed legislation under which some suspects could be sent to mainland China, where critics say they could face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.
Lam has rejected all calls for dialogue, part of what analysts say is a strategy to wear down the opposition movement through police action while prompting demonstrators to take more violent and extreme actions that will turn the Hong Kong public against them. At the airport, protesters discussed among themselves whether they should simply block all access to the facility.
Meanwhile, paramilitary police were assembling across the border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises that some saw as a threat to increase force against the mostly young protesters who have turned out by the thousands in 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 Shenzhen exercises were a sign 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. Images on the internet showed armored personnel carriers belonging to the People’s Armed Police driving in a convoy Monday toward the site of the exercises.
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. Hong Kong police also put on a display of water cannons.
Police have arrested more than 700 protesters since June and say they have infiltrated the demonstrators, leading to concerns that officers were inciting violence. Scores of protesters and police have been hurt, including a woman reported to have had an eye ruptured by a beanbag round fired by police during clashes Sunday.
Police said they are investigating the incident, which protesters have taken up as a rallying cry. Some of those joining in the airport occupation wore gauze bandages dyed with artificial blood over one eye.
The U.N.’s top human rights official condemned violence around the protests and urged both sides to settle their dispute through “open and inclusive dialogue.”
Rupert Colville, spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, said her office had reviewed evidence that police are using “less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards.” That includes firing tear gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individuals, “creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury,” Colville said in a statement.
In a sign of rising tensions, protesters in the evening detained a man they claimed was a police officer from mainland China. They tied his wrists using plastic strips and poured water over his head. Airport security guards were present but did not appear to be able to stop the crowd.
Sally Tong, an 18-year-old protester, said they needed to keep holding him as evidence that mainland Chinese authorities are in Hong Kong to monitor the demonstrations. Tong said the man was dressed in black and wore a mask to look like one of them.
“We want to keep him here and investigate,” Tong said. Protesters said the man dropped his wallet when he was running away from them, and they found ID cards from mainland China and also found his name on a list of police officers online.
The Associated Press could not independently verify his identity.
After two months, the protests have become increasingly divisive and prompted clashes across the city.
Demonstrators have recently 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 of violent arrests and injuries sustained by protesters.
Some protesters have thrown bricks, eggs and flaming objects at police stations. Police say several officers have suffered burns, bruises and eye damage from protesters.
Lam said dialogue would only begin when the violence ended. She reiterated her support for police and said they have had to make on-the-spot decisions under difficult circumstances, using “the lowest level of force.”
“After the violence has been stopped, and the chaotic situation that we are seeing could subside,” Lam said. “I as the chief executive will be responsible to rebuild Hong Kong’s economy … to help Hong Kong to move on.”
She did not elaborate on any conciliatory steps her government will take.
The early protests were in specific neighborhoods near government offices. However, the airport protest has 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 across the region.
“I don’t think I will ever fly to Hong Kong again,” said Kerry Dickinson of South Africa.
The protesters held up signs in Chinese and English to appeal to travelers from mainland China and elsewhere. “Democracy is a good thing,” said one sign in simplified Chinese characters, which are used in mainland China instead of the traditional Chinese script of Hong Kong.
Adding to the protesters’ anger, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways told employees the carrier has a “zero tolerance” for them joining “illegal protests” and warned they could be fired.
Associated Press photographer Vincent Thian in Hong Kong contributed.