Asia Pacific / Politics

Train disruptions in Hong Kong show how protests are affecting daily life

Bloomberg

Fresh train disruptions by Hong Kong protesters Tuesday show how unrest once confined to weekend marches through downtown streets is spreading across the Asian financial hub and affecting daily life.

Train services were slowed on the centrally located Island Line and the Kwun Tong Line across Victoria Harbour after black-clad protesters blocked doors and requested emergency assistance during the morning rush. There was yelling and confusion as commuters found themselves stuck in large crowds on subway platforms for the second time in less than a week.

Although rail operator MTR Corp. said trains were resuming their normal schedules as of 11:30 a.m., such problems are expected to spread as protesters try to keep their grievances in the headlines and force a response by the city’s China-appointed government. The incident follows a weekend of rallies that saw a peaceful sit-in at Asia’s busiest international airport and sometimes rowdy mass protests that prompted police to fire tear gas in residential areas.

The movement has proved surprisingly resilient more than eight weeks after as many as 1 million people took to the streets to oppose Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s now-suspended proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China. Authorities in Beijing have so far maintained their support for Lam, who has rejected demands that she resign, formally withdraw the bill and appoint an independent inquiry into the police’s use of force.

China warned Monday that political unrest in the former British colony had gone “far beyond” peaceful protest, underscoring concern of more direct intervention. The demonstrations ultimately stem from anxiety that China has been eroding the rights and freedoms promised to Hong Kong before the end of colonial rule in 1997.

During Tuesday’s protests, services at Lam Tin, Yau Tong and Tiu Keng Leng stations were suspended. At Tin Hau station on the Island Line, dozens of passengers were queuing up for refunds as train services were suspended.

MTR Corp. shares were down 0.2 percent as of 12 p.m. in Hong Kong trading, paring earlier losses.

Protesters argue that they’ve been driven to guerrilla tactics because the former British colony’s unelected government is ignoring historic protests and the police are withholding protest permits and increasing their use of force. Since last month, different groups in the largely leaderless movement have surrounded police headquarters, mobbed government buildings and ransacked the city’s legislature.

While such tactics risk alienating the general public and causing further damage to the economy, the movement has also received support from the business community. The American Chamber of Commerce’s Hong Kong chapter on Monday urged an “internationally credible” independent inquiry into all aspects of the protest movement, saying action was needed to preserve the city’s strength as a global financial center.

The city’s otherwise model railway system has born the brunt of several recent incidents, including shocking mob attacks last week on protesters and other train passengers at a railway station in the northern suburb of Yuen Long. Protesters subsequently decided to disrupt train services to highlight the slow police response to the incident.

The rail operator on Monday pledged a review of its safety procedures, a move the South China Morning Post newspaper said was prompted by strike threats and internal anger over criticism of a female train driver related to the Yuen Long incident. Last week, MTR Chairman Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen endorsed calls for an inquiry into police action.

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