A video from deep inside Hong Kong airport has shown how terrifyingly close police came to shooting protesters at one of the world’s major transport hubs.
A reporter who filmed the incident said he was “astonished no one was killed” as the violence escalated.
Police and protesters have clashed at Hong Kong’s international airport for a second day as the political crisis in the autonomous region of China shows no signs of abating.
US President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday, “I hope nobody gets killed.”
Demonstrations have been held in the city for weeks demanding China fully dump a controversial extradition bill, hold free and fair elections and cease what opponents see as the mainland’s increasing grip on the territory.
Ominously, the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam warned Hong Kong was “on the brink of no return”.
Passengers were stranded as scores of flights were cancelled for the second time at the airport, which is a major transfer hub for Cathay Pacific airlines.
On Tuesday, thousands of black-clad protesters jammed the terminal chanting, singing and waving banners.
Protesters also barricaded some passageways in the airport with luggage trolleys, metal barriers and other objects.
Others clambered onto check-in counters as the protesters appeared to control part of the airport for a short while. At least two protesters were taken away by police.
Scuffles broke out in the evening after an injured man was held by a group of protesters.
Some claimed he was an undercover mainland Chinese agent and initially refused to let him leave.
Medics, however, bundled him onto a stretcher and forced their way through jeering throngs to an ambulance.
Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters and riot police moved in amid chaotic scenes, using pepper spray to keep people back.
‘ASTONISHED NO ONE KILLED’
Wall Street Journal reporter Mike Bird caught one moment on video where a policeman pulled out a gun.
In the video, a seemingly lone officer enters part of Terminal 1, where Cathay Pacific flights depart, and brings one protester to the floor before raising and then lowering his baton.
A group of other protesters proceed to surround the officer. He uses his baton before it is taken from him and then repeatedly hit with it. The officer then takes out his hand gun and points it at the protesters who promptly run away from him before other officers come to the policeman’s aid.
Mr Bird said the officer “drew his pistol and aimed at protesters” after being beaten. “Astonished nobody killed here tonight,” he said on Twitter.
Police officer had his baton taken from him and was attacked with it. Drew his pistol and aimed at protesters. Astonished nobody killed here tonight. pic.twitter.com/Wox8yziDnz
— Mike Bird (@Birdyword) August 13, 2019
The situation calmed down after a few hours without the violence worsening and the crowds thinned out, Reuters reported.
The action followed an unprecedented shutdown of the airport on Monday. Hong Kong’s airport authority said operations had been “seriously disrupted” on Tuesday and departing passengers had been unable to reach immigration counters.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong since China took it back from Britain in 1997.
While Hong Kong is a sovereign part of China, the former colony has significant differences to the mainland, including separate legal and political systems, distinct currency, national sporting teams and a greater tolerance for freedom of expression.
Hong Kong also retains many of its pre-colonial features, including driving on the same side of the road as Britain and Australia but not China, the retention of many British place names and statues of British monarchs and dignitaries.
Those two different systems are supposed to remain in place for at least 50 years.
However, Beijing has sought to erode these freedoms in recent years through changes to the law, attempts to not allow pro-independence politicians to take their seats in the region’s parliament and even the disappearance of booksellers critical of the Communist Party leadership.
There have been fears China is massing troops on its border with Hong Kong.
Mr Trump relayed that intelligence report in a tweet on Tuesday.
“Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!” he wrote.
In separate remarks to reporters, he said: “The Hong Kong thing is a very tough situation. I hope it works out peacefully. I hope nobody gets hurt. I hope nobody gets killed.”
The increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters have roiled the Asian financial hub. Hong Kong’s stockmarket fell to a seven-month low on Tuesday.
The United Nations human rights commissioner Michele Bachelet urged Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of their forces firing teargas at protesters in ways banned under international law. China responded by saying her comments sent the wrong signal to “violent criminal offenders”.
Some travellers from the city state’s airport voiced sympathy with the demonstrators.
“I understand the basics of the protest and they’ve got a point: It’s about freedom and democracy and it’s incredibly important,” said Pete Knox, a 65-year-old Briton on his way to Vietnam.
Others were conflicted. Chun-sun Chan, 46, trying to fly home to his two children in Britain, said he felt for the protesters “but I can’t quite reconcile with myself whether this is the right way of doing it”.
Originally published as Moment HK chaos almost led to death