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Flights restart at Hong Kong airport as protesters apologize

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Hong Kong airport

HONG KONG — Flights resumed at Hong Kong’s airport Wednesday after two days of disruptions marked by outbursts of violence that highlight the hardening positions of pro-democracy protesters and the authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

About three dozen protesters remained camped in the airport’s arrivals area a day after a mass demonstration and frenzied mob violence forced more than 100 flight cancellations. Additional identification checks were in place, but check-in counters were open and flights appeared to be operating normally.

Protesters spread pamphlets and posters across the floor in a section of the terminal but were not impeding travellers. Online, they also circulated letters and promotional materials apologizing to travellers and the general public for inconveniences during the past five days of airport occupations.

“It is not our intention to cause delays to your travels and we do not want to cause inconvenience to you,” said an emailed statement from a group of protesters. “We ask for your understanding and forgiveness as young people in Hong Kong continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”

The airport’s management said it had obtained “an interim injunction to restrain persons from unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering” with airport operations. It said an area of the airport had been set aside for demonstrations, but no protests would be allowed outside the designated area.

The airport had closed check-in for remaining flights late Tuesday afternoon as protesters swarmed the terminal and blocked access to immigration for departing passengers. Those cancellations were in addition to 200 flights cancelled on Monday.

Hong Kong police said they arrested five people during clashes with pro-democracy protesters at the airport Tuesday night.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Mak Chin-ho said the men, aged between 17 and 28, were arrested for illegal assembly. Two were also charged with assaulting a police officer and possessing offensive weapons as riot police sought to clear the terminal.

More than 700 protesters have been arrested in total since early June, mostly men in their 20s and 30s, but also including women, teenagers and septuagenarians.

Mak gave no further details, but said additional suspects were expected to be arrested, including those who assaulted an officer after stripping him of his baton and pepper spray, prompting him to draw his gun to fend them off.

Hong Kong law permits life imprisonment for those who commit violent acts or acts that might interfere with flight safety at an airport.

More than 74 million travellers pass through Hong Kong’s airport each year, making it “not an appropriate place of protest,” Mak said.

“Hong Kong police have always facilitated peaceful and orderly protests over the years, but the extremely radical and violent acts have certainly crossed the line and are to be most severely condemned,” he said. “The police pledge to all citizens of Hong Kong that we will take steps to bring all culprits to justice.”

That was backed up by a statement on a newly launched government website set up to provide the latest information on the crisis, which said, “The police will take relentless enforcement action to bring the persons involved to justice.”

Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific said in a statement it had cancelled 272 flights over the past two days, affecting more than 55,000 passengers, while 622 departures and arrivals went ahead.

Cathay also said it has fired two pilots, in an apparent response to their involvement in activity related to pro-democracy protests.

They included one pilot who is “currently involved in legal proceedings.” The airline said earlier this week one of its pilots has been charged with rioting after being arrested during a protest.

It said the second fired pilot “misused company information,” but gave no further details. The Hong Kong Free Press reported that the pilot posted a photo of a cockpit screen on an online forum used by protesters.

The airport disruptions have escalated a summer of demonstrations aimed at what many Hong Kong residents see as an increasing erosion of the freedoms they were promised in 1997 when Communist Party-ruled mainland China took over what had been a British colony.

While Hong Kong’s crucial travel industry suffers major losses, the city’s reputation as a well-regulated centre for finance is also taking a hit. Some 21 countries and regions have issued travel safety alerts for their citizens travelling to Hong Kong, saying protests have become more violent and unpredictable.

The demonstrators are demanding Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam 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 calls for dialogue, saying Tuesday the protesters were threatening to push their home into an “abyss.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Chinese Cabinet’s liaison office in Hong Kong said the protesters had “entirely ruptured legal and moral bottom lines” and would face swift and severe repercussions under Hong Kong’s legal system.

“Their behaviour shows extreme contempt for the law, seriously damages Hong Kong’s international image and deeply hurts the feelings of the broad masses of their mainland compatriots,” the statement said.

Most of the protesters left the airport Tuesday after officers armed with pepper spray and swinging batons tried to enter the terminal, fighting with demonstrators who barricaded entrances with luggage carts. Riot police clashed briefly with the demonstrators, leading to several injuries and prompting at least one officer to draw a handgun on his assailants.

The burst of violence included protesters beating up at least two men they suspected of being undercover Chinese agents. Airport security appeared unable to control the crowd, and paramedics later took both men away. Police have acknowledged using “decoy” officers, and some protesters over the weekend were seen being arrested by men dressed like demonstrators — in black and wearing face masks.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, identified one of the men as a journalist at the nationalistic Chinese tabloid.

“Fu Guohao, reporter of GT website is being seized by demonstrators at HK airport,” Hu wrote on his Twitter account. “I affirm this man being tied in this video is the reporter himself. He has no other task except for reporting.”

Protesters on Wednesday apologized that some of them had become “easily agitated and over-reacted.” On posters, the demonstrators said they have been “riddled with paranoia and rage” after discovering undercover police officers in their ranks.

Earlier this week, the central government in Beijing issued an ominous characterization of the protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” — a label it routinely applies to nonviolent protests of government policies on the environment or in minority regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet.

President Donald Trump tweeted that U.S. intelligence believes that the Chinese government is moving troops to its border with Hong Kong and that, “Everyone should be calm and safe!”

While China has yet to threaten using the army — as it did against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989 — recent police exercises across Hong Kong’s border with mainland China were a sign of its ability to crush the demonstrations, even at a cost to Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe haven for business and international exchange.

Images on the internet showed armoured personnel carriers belonging to the People’s Armed Police driving in a convoy Monday toward the site of the exercises.

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Associated Press video journalist Katie Tam in Hong Kong and writer Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.

Vincent Thian And Yanan Wang, The Associated Press
































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Air Canada, Ottawa agree to aid package worth up to $5.9 billion

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OTTAWA — Air Canada and Ottawa have agreed to financing deals that would allow the airline to access as much as $5.9 billion through the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility program.

As part of the package, Air Canada has agreed to a number of commitments, including refunds for some customers who did not travel due to COVID-19 and a promise to resume service at some regional airports.

Other restrictions include limits on executive compensation and maintaining a minimum number of staff.

Travel restrictions introduced through the beginning of the pandemic have been catastrophic for the airline industry. 

Then-CEO Calin Rovinescu described it as the “bleakest year in the history of commercial aviation,” when the airline released its 2020 financial results in February.

The deal with Ottawa includes debt as well as an equity investment.

The company lost $4.6-billion in 2020, compared with a profit of $1.5 billion the year before.

In early April, Air Canada pulled the plug on its planned $190-million takeover of Montreal-based tour operator Transat AT, citing Europe’s unwillingness to approve the deal, thus triggering a $12.5-million termination fee.

Organizations supporting Air Canada’s calls for a bailout have included unions such as Unifor and the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association, as well as the National Airlines Council of Canada industry group.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC)

The Canadian Press

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Haley says she'll back Trump, stand down if he runs in 2024

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ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, often mentioned as a possible 2024 GOP presidential contender, said Monday that she would not seek her party’s nomination if former President Donald Trump opts to run a second time.

“Yes,” Haley said, when asked if she would support a second bid by Trump, in whose Cabinet she served for the first half of his administration.

“I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” Haley said, asked by The Associated Press if a possible Trump bid could preclude her own effort, were he to announce first. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made.”

Haley spoke Monday after touring the campus of South Carolina State University, an HBCU in Orangeburg where current President James E. Clark showed her campus improvements including a revamped student centre and state-of-the-art cancer research and cybersecurity facilities.

The visit was one of Haley’s first public events in months in her home state.

Since her 2016 resignation as South Carolina governor to join Trump’s Cabinet, Haley has maintained a delicate balancing act among Republicans who have in some ways been sharply split on the now-former president. In two years at the United Nations, Haley treaded a path of speaking out against Trump while not directly drawing his ire. She left the office on her own terms in 2018, a rarity then during a wave of staffing turmoil.

Haley has made several moves in recent years to fuel speculation her sights are on higher office. In 2019, she and her family moved back to South Carolina, purchasing a home in the Kiawah Island community. She also launched a political action committee, published a memoir and commanded as much as $200,000 for speaking appearances.

Republicans had already been grappling with the party’s future following Trump’s tumultuous term. But after the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill violence as lawmakers gathered to certify Joe Biden’s election victory, Haley said Trump had been “badly wrong” in stoking the crowd before the riot, telling an audience at the Republican National Committee winter meeting that Trump’s “actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.”

Haley also said the whole notion was “deeply disappointing” because of the effect it will have on the legacy of the Trump administration, echoing remarks by some including fellow South Carolinian Sen. Lindsey Graham, who called the melee Trump’s “self-inflicted wound.”

On Monday, Haley defended her former boss, who this past weekend lit into fellow Republicans including his own vice-president, saying he was “disappointed” in Mike Pence and calling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “stone-cold loser.”

“I think former President Trump’s always been opinionated,” Haley said, asked about Trump’s weekend comments and if they hurt the GOP. “Just because he left being president, that’s not going to stop. But I think what he also talked about were all the successes that he had in the administration. And I think that’s what Republicans are uniting on. … Every day Biden and Kamala Harris are in office unites the Republicans.”

The outing was Haley’s first public event in her home state in months. It comes just two weeks before Pence, also among those mentioned as a possible 2024 candidate, is set to visit South Carolina for his first public speech, a gathering with a conservative Christian non-profit group.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press




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