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Aussie travellers are facing major delays after thousands of pro-democracy protesters descended on Hong Kong's worldwide airport, forcing authorities to shut it down.

Thousands of black-clad protesters on Monday packed the arrival area, where they had gathered for a three-day sit-in that was originally planned to end last night.

Waves of increasingly violent protests have swept across Hong Kong this year, triggered initially by the introduction of an extradition bill that residents see as China's latest attempt to erode their political freedoms.

Hong Kong, a major Asian commercial hub, returned to China in 1997 after 156 years of British rule.

Australian travellers stuck in Hong Kong have described chaotic scenes at the airport.

The airport shut down at 4:30 p.m. Monday, and it reopened at 6 a.m. local time on Tuesday, that's 7 a.m. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index came off its session high and contracts for all three main US equity indexes erased earlier gains.

In Beijing, the Cabinet's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office issued a statement saying the situation in Hong Kong was "beginning to show the sprouts of terrorism" and constituted an "existential threat" to the population of Hong Kong.

The airport, one of the busiest in the world, re-opened on Tuesday morning but hundreds of flights remained cancelled and protesters called for a new rally there later in the day.

"I do feel the young people in Hong Kong are very intelligent, they understand the difficulties of their struggle and they are prepared for a long-range fighting", he said.

The protests have evolved into the biggest challenge to Chinese control since the United Kingdom relinquished its former colony in 1997.

Authorities called the demonstrations illegal and unsafe, claiming that protests have hurt the already-faltering economy and residents' daily lives.

"Protesters have been frequently using extremely risky tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging", said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang in Beijing.

Tang Ping-keung, deputy commissioner of police, said it was too early to say whether force would be used to clear the airport.

Lam told reporters that dialogue would only begin when the violence stopped. Dramatic videos showed riot police firing weapons at close range and beating some protesters, many of whom wore yellow hard hats and gas masks.

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The city of 185,000 has reportedly been stocking up on iodine, which is used to reduce the effects of radiation exposure.

The footage coincided with a statement from Chinese authorities vowing to crack down on Hong Kong protesters.

Cathay Pacific has, so far, sacked two employees and suspended a pilot.

She did not elaborate on what steps her government will take toward reconciliation. "The numbers are declining, the level of violence is increasing".

What is Hong Kong's status?

China in recent weeks has toughened its stance toward the movement and doubled down on its support for the police.

Organisers of the protests have called for a million people to take over the airport today as a reaction for alleged police brutality. "Hong Kong has reached an inflection point where all those who are concerned about Hong Kong's future must say "no, ' to law breakers and 'no" to those engaged in violence".

On Sunday the female protester lost an eye to a bean-bag round shot by police, while taking part in a street demonstration.

By Tuesday morning, numerous posters and signs the protesters had placed throughout the terminals had been taken down, but graffiti - some reading "an eye for an eye" - had not yet been cleared.

Consequently, Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg wrote in a memo to employees that the company is legally required to comply with China's aviation authority. It also fired two workers for "misconduct".

"We can only return to operation after considering tourists' and staff's safety".

Around 50 protesters remained camped in the terminals on Tuesday morning, while more than 100 passengers were spotted queuing at Cathay's ticket counter, Reuters news agency reported. Those demonstrations also ended in tear gas and dispersal operations.

Who is the Hong Kong leader?

"Then we can talk". That's the most important thing.

-With assistance from Fion Li, Will Davies and Justin Chin.