Govt mulls Hong Kong rescue bid

Govt mulls Hong Kong rescue bid

Protests see airport crippled for 2nd day

Anti-Extradition bill protesters are seen on the check-in counter during a mass demonstration at the Hong Kong international airport on Tuesday. (Reuters photo)
Anti-Extradition bill protesters are seen on the check-in counter during a mass demonstration at the Hong Kong international airport on Tuesday. (Reuters photo)

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) plans to dispatch two aircraft and officials to help evacuate Thais from Hong Kong as confrontations between police and protesters raise the prospect that flights at Hong Kong's international airport may remain suspended going into the weekend.

The RTAF swung into action after protesters severely crippled operations at Chek Lap Kok airport for a second day on Tuesday, forcing authorities to cancel all remaining flights out of the city after demonstrators took over the terminals as part of their push for democratic reforms.

After a brief respite in the morning, during which flights were able to take off and land, the airport authority announced check-in services for departing flights were suspended as of 4.30pm, Hong Kong time.

It said it did not expect arriving flights to be affected, though dozens were already cancelled. The authority advised people not to come to the airport, one of the world's busiest transport hubs.

On Monday, more than 200 flights were cancelled and the airport was effectively shut down with no flights taking off or landing.

Passengers have been forced to seek accommodation in the city while airlines struggle to find other ways to get them to their destinations.

Air force chief ACM Chaiyapruk Didyasarin has asked air force officers to monitor and assess the unrest closely and prepare air routes, RTAF spokesman AM Pongsak Semacha said.

"It all comes down to landing [in Hong Kong]. It depends on the government. However, we are ready to act," he said.

Meanwhile, Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, the national police chief, has directed the Immigration Bureau, Tourist Police Bureau, and Thai airports to fast-track the return of Thai citizens.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the Royal Thai Consulate-General in Hong Kong is providing regular updates and is assessing the situation daily.

"I urge all Thais to avoid areas where protests are continuing. I have requested the Ministry of Transport to come up with plans. I get reports all day. Don't worry. There are procedures for dealing with incidents that take place in other countries," he said.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said the number of Thais in Hong Kong remains unknown, but confirmed that nobody has been injured in the protests because clashes between police and rioters have generally been confined to specific areas of the city.

"The government doesn't forbid Thais from going to Hong Kong because it is their personal right. However, it is advisable to postpone a trip if it is not urgent. If it is necessary, please plan it carefully," he said.

Kasikorn Research Centre predicts that the protests in Hong Kong could negatively impact the 30,000 Hong Kong tourists expected to arrive in Thailand this week, leading to financial losses of 1.4 billion baht if the airport shutdown lasts all week.

The centre urged Thai authorities to issue guidelines to foreign tourists who want to visit Thailand. These include recommending direct flights and transits via another hub airport.

In 2018, 1.02 million tourists visited Thailand from Hong Kong, generating revenues of 42 billion baht.

According to the Royal Thai Consulate-General, protesters were continuing to gather at Terminal 1 of Hong Kong's international airport at 1pm local time on Tuesday.

Some staged a peaceful sit-in in the arrival area, but others used barriers to block passengers in the departure hall and at the entrance to the immigration checkpoints, which prevented staff and immigration officials from doing their duty.

As of 4.30pm on Tuesday, Chek Lap Kok airport had already cancelled all remaining departing flights for a second day.

The Royal Thai Consulate-General suggested that Thais due to board flights at the airport on Tuesday and today should consult their airlines for updates on the status of their flights and avoid protest-ridden areas at the airport if at all possible.

Some Thais who were stranded in Hong Kong on Monday night have returned to Thailand via Hong Kong Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Thai Airways. Thai AirAsia also announced that it had managed to resume some flights between the two destinations before the airport closed again.

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