Hong Kong Protests: Leader Warns of ‘Crisis’ as Strike Disrupts Subways and Leads to Canceled Flights

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s leader warned of a “crisis” of security and safety Monday as antigovernment activists called for a general strike and rallies across the city, leading to service disruptions on several subway and rail lines and airlines canceling more than 200 flights.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has conceded little since June when she suspended, but did not withdraw, a contentious proposal that would allow extraditions to mainland China. The bill has prompted two months of protests and thrown the territory into its worst political crisis since Britain returned it to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Transit officials reported disruptions to key subway and rail lines, including the suspension of service on part of the Island Line, the main subway line on Hong Kong Island, snarling the morning commute for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Protests were planned across the city, from outside the government headquarters on Hong Kong Island to Mong Kok, a dense urban district on the Kowloon Peninsula, and several locations spread across the New Territories to the north.

Several trade unions, including those representing Disney cast members and teachers, announced that they would strike on Monday. Informal groups of civil servants, aviation workers, construction workers, lawyers and finance workers also said they discussed plans to strike on Telegram, a social media app where many recent protests were planned.

Mrs. Lam said during a news conference Monday morning that the disruptions “have seriously undermined Hong Kong’s law and order and are pushing our city, the city we all love and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation.”

“As a result of these widespread disruptions and violence, the great majority of Hong Kong people are now in a state of great anxiety,” she added. “Some of them do not know whether they could still take some forms of public transport while others are right now being blocked on their way to work.”

Her comments followed a stark government warning Sunday night, after two days of confrontational protests that included the temporary blockage of a tunnel linking Hong Kong Island with Kowloon, that any “large-scale strikes and acts of violence will affect the livelihood and economic activities of Hong Kong citizens.”

“The now crisis in front of us is not about individual aspirations or about the bill,” Mrs. Lam said. “It is about Hong Kong’s security and safety and whether we could restore in time the law and order that not only the 7.4 million Hong Kong people values a lot, but I’m sure individuals sectors who still have a stake in this society would like us to defend.”

The mass demonstrations started in early June over the unpopular extradition bill but quickly expanded to include broader demands for greater democracy and independent investigations into the police and the government. Anger has built for years over stalled political reforms, threats to civil liberties and resentment over Beijing’s influence over the semiautonomous city.

Protesters vandalized the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, taunted mainland shoppers and, on Saturday, threw a Chinese flag into Victoria Harbor.

The Hong Kong government is under growing pressure from the authorities in Beijing to restore order in the city as the protesters have become increasingly confrontational and directed their ire more pointedly at Beijing’s rule. The Chinese government has hinted that the military could be deployed to quell the protests and state media reports in the mainland have more frequently denounced the protesters as traitors to the motherland.

The strike brings a new dimension to the protests, denting Hong Kong’s image as an efficient, hard-working city. The new tactics will challenge the government’s ability to respond. Mrs. Lam has been little seen in public in recent weeks, leaving the police force as the face of the government’s handling of the protests.

But the police force’s repeated use of tear gas, batons and pepper spray on demonstrators who have confronted them in the streets will be less useful in handling transit disruptions and job actions.

The protesters’ actions could undermine support for their movement, too. Some commuters were seen arguing with people who were blocking train doors on Monday, with riders saying they needed to get to work.

Others agreed with the tactics. Jason Mak, a 31-year-old who works in construction management, waited patiently inside a subway train and said that the long delays did not bother him.

“The government didn’t make response to the civilians’ demands so people have to do more extreme things. It’s reasonable,” he said. “There has to be some obstruction for things to have an impact.”

It was not immediately clear how many people would follow the call for a general strike. Some employers issued warnings, while others said they would tolerate no-shows. The Labor Department asked employers to “show understanding and flexibility” to employees given the expected traffic disruptions during the morning rush.

Joshua Law, the secretary of the Civil Service, wrote to the city’s 180,000 civil servants last week that he “absolutely did not approve” of civil servants gathering or going on strike. On Friday, government employees gathered after work to call for an independent investigation into the push for the extradition bill and allegations of police wrongdoing.

The Hong Kong government warned last week ahead of the Friday protest and strike call that it would “seriously follow up on any violations of regulations” that restrict civil servants public involvement in politics.

Hong Kong Airport warned travelers Monday morning of potential disruptions and to check in with their airlines. More than 100 departing flights and 100 arriving flights were canceled by 9 a.m. The Airport Express train to the airport was also suspended because of protesters blocking doors.

Fred Lam, chief executive of Airport Authority Hong Kong, wrote to employees last week, urging them to “continue performing your duties professionally on Monday.” Some aviation workers joined a protest at the airport last month, and an unsigned letter had circulated online warning of a “noncooperation movement” by air traffic controllers unless the government responded to the protesters’ demands.

The general strike is a political action and not a dispute between workers and management, meaning participants will not receive the already limited protections for labor actions in Hong Kong law, scholars say.

Employees who participate in the strike could face risk of punishment or dismissal, particularly if their employer warned against participation and they did not take a day of vacation or have an excuse, like a doctor’s note, said Rick Glofcheski, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong.

“Anyone on the general strike can be counted as being a brave person,” he said. “In the current political mood, there are millions of them in Hong Kong. But basically you don’t have any protection.”

Some employers have signaled they would tolerate workers’ absence on Monday, including the Catholic Diocese, the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, a pro-democracy labor group with 160,000 members, called on workers to strike Monday, while the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, a pro-Beijing group, urged workers, particularly those working in transportation, to work as normal to prevent the city becoming paralyzed.

Maggie Chung, a 32-year-old accountant who attended a rally at Kennedy Town Sunday night, said she intended to take no-pay leave or sick leave even though she had not yet passed the probationary period of her new job. “If I lose my job, I can find another one,” she said. “But if Hong Kong is lost, it’s gone forever.”

Many hospital workers said that they planned to work for the sake of their patients, even though they supported anti-government strikes.

“If we participated in strikes as front-line medical workers, our patients would be affected the most,” Dr. Arisina Ma, the president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association said at a rally for medical workers Friday. “Hong Kong civilians have suffered enough.”

Over the weekend, protesters called on the public to join the strike. “August 5 strike!” was chanted at demonstrations that spread over several locations on Saturday and Sunday. And even far from the crush of the mass gatherings, Hong Kong residents urged others to join.

Kathy Lai, 38, a travel coordinator for a media company, carried a sign that read, “August 5, I strike,” as she walked Saturday with her dog on Bowen Road, a popular running path in an upscale neighborhood on Hong Kong Island.

The strike is a way for middle-age people to contribute to a protest movement that has been led by young people, she said.

“We can’t send the children to fight with the police any more,” Ms. Lai said. “We are adults and we have to fight for the city more than the children.”