HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong braced for major disruptions to business on Monday as a general strike threatened to paralyze parts of the Asian financial center, with more than 200 flights already canceled, amid a broader anti-government campaign.
The strike follows another weekend of violent protests, which the government said were pushing the city to “an extremely dangerous edge”. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would hold a news conference at 10 a.m. local time (0200 GMT).
Police arrested 44 people after sometimes violent clashes overnight when police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who moved swiftly across the city in flash mob-style actions.
Commuters struggled to get to work in the Monday morning rush hour, with many rail and bus services suspended, while some protesters blocked trains from leaving stations.
Long lines of traffic could be seen across Hong Kong island leading into the heart of the business center and hundreds of people were stranded at the airport.
Media reports said the Airport Express train service was also suspended.
“I know the whole thing and I support the resistance very much. But this is not the way to win friends and influence people. It is (hurting) innocent bystanders,” said Canadian retiree Edward Tunis, 66.
The Chinese-controlled city has been rocked by months of protests that began against an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial and have since evolved into calls for greater democracy.
The protests have at times shut government offices, blocked roads and disrupted business, posing the greatest political challenge to the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Millions of people have taken to the streets to vent anger and frustration at the city’s government, presenting the biggest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Hong Kong tourism numbers are already falling and hotel occupancy rates are slumping as the protests take a toll, adding pressure to Hong Kong’s already struggling economy.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday: “The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue. We firmly believe that Hong Kong will be able to overcome the difficulties and challenges ahead.”
(Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree, Donny Kwok, Noah Sin, Vimvam Tam, Kevin Liu, and Felix Tam; Editing by Paul Tait)