Protesters clashed with riot police at Hong Kong’s international airport on Tuesday evening after flights were disrupted for a second day, as Donald Trump warned that China is moving troops to the border.

The airport scuffles broke out in the evening between police and protesters, after protesters allegedly detained two men suspected of being undercover Chinese officials.

Trouble began as about 10-15 regular police officers entered the airport without riot gear to assist paramedics after a man collapsed. The man was accused by demonstrators of being a member of Chinese state security.

Protesters then drove the police out of the terminal building. Shortly after, about 50 riot police arrived and clashes broke out in and around the entrance of the airport.

Police used pepper spray and made a handful of arrests as scenes briefly turned violent. A policeman was cornered and beaten with his own baton before protesters dispersed when he drew his pistol.

Cameramen and photographers film a detained man, who protesters claimed was a police officer from mainland China
Cameramen and photographers film a detained man, who protesters claimed was a police officer from mainland China CREDIT: VINCENT YU/AP

Protesters also detained a second man who they suspected of being an undercover agent. After emptying out his belongings, they found a blue T-shirt that has been worn by pro-Beijing supporters that they said was evidence he was a spy.

The editor-in-chief of the Global Times claimed one of the men seen detained and tied to a trolley was a reporter for the Chinese state newspaper. 

Meanwhile, Chinese paramilitary police were assembling across the border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises.

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.

Mr Trump said in a tweet: “Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!”

Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters have roiled the Asian financial hub as thousands of residents chafe at a perceived erosion of freedoms and autonomy under Chinese rule.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Hong Kong to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of its forces firing tear gas at protesters in ways banned under international law.

China later rejected what it called a “wrongful statement” by the UN, saying it amounted to interference in its domestic affairs.

Riot police stormed part of the airport as protesters crippled terminals
Riot police clashed with pockets of protesters at the airport as demonstrations crippled terminals CREDIT: THOMAS PETER/ REUTERS

At a news conference in the government headquarters complex, which is fortified behind 6-foot (1.8-m) -high water-filled barricades, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said: “Take a minute to look at our city, our home.”

Her voice cracked as she added: “Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?”

Ms Lam’s repeated refusals to make any concessions or show sympathy toward protesters, some of whom have been injured as police shoot tear gas and rubber bullets, has only upset them more and boosted public support for the activists plunging the city into its worst political crisis in decades.

Chris Patten, the last governor under British colonial rule, said that Hong Kong was “close to the abyss”, because Ms Lam refused to withdraw a controversial extradition bill  

“I think there is a degree of frustration and anger at the government refusing to give any sensible ground at all, which probably provokes more violence,” Mr Patten told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He urged Boris Johnson to take a firmer line with Beijing, and to put pressure on visiting National Security Advisor John Bolton for US help.

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said the UK should extend citizenship rights to Hong Kong citizens.

The White House has also urged “all sides” to avoid violence in Hong Kong. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, on Monday praised protesters for standing up to the Chinese Communist Party, warning that the “world is watching” for any violent crackdown by authorities.

US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he hoped no one would be killed. The crisis was a “very tricky situation,” the president told reporters in New Jersey.

“I hope it works out peacefully, nobody gets hurt, nobody gets killed,” he said.

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