Hong Kong’s leader has said the territory has been pushed into a “state of panic and chaos” and warned demonstrators that it could enter “the abyss”.
Carrie Lam appealed for unity after another weekend of riot police battling protesters on the streets.
She told reporters: “I ask everybody again to put aside our differences and calm down, take a minute to look at our city, our home. Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?”
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters grounded flights at Hong Kong airport on Monday and the Chinese government said the unrest is now showing “sprouts of terrorism”.
Riot police again fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the weekend – even letting off rounds in an underground station and using plain-clothes police ‘snatch squads’ to detain troublemakers.
Sky’s Stuart Ramsay, in Hong Kong, said police tactics appear to have hardened – a sign that China could be running out of patience after two months of protests.
Anger in the former British colony has grown over claims of police brutality, a planned extradition law and a call for more democracy.
Hong Kong’s airport has reopened but many flights are still being rescheduled or cancelled after Monday’s chaos.
Ramsay said the number of protesters in the departures side was building again on Tuesday afternoon, raising the possibility of another closure.
Mrs Lam’s voice cracked with emotion at one point as she earlier spoke to reporters about the unrest.
“Hong Kong, as an open, free, very tolerant, economically stable city will see severe wounds… he recovery may take a long time,” she said.
She also defended the police against claims they nearly caused a stampede when they fired tear gas in Tai Koo station, with children and elderly people reportedly gassed.
Ms Lam said they were having to make difficult “on the spot” judgements but had “very rigid and stringent guidelines” about how much force to use.
One woman is in danger of losing the sight in an eye after she was hit by a tear gas round at the weekend.
Hong Kong’s leader also repeatedly evaded a question on whether she has the power to withdraw the controversial extradition bill – or whether she must get Beijing’s agreement.
The planned law was the catalyst for the protests – people fear it would be used to send dissidents to the mainland where they could be denied proper justice.
Mrs Lam has previously said the proposal is “dead”, but it has not yet been officially withdrawn.
Protesters want Mrs Lam to stand down and free elections held to replace her.
The demonstrators’ demands have broadened over the past weeks to encompass a push for greater democracy and the protection of Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” model – a key principle of Britain handing the territory back to China in 1997.
Beijing’s response to the crisis appears to be getting tougher.
A statement from the government department that deals with Hong Kong warned of “no leniency or mercy”.
China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said on Monday that the situation was “beginning to show the sprouts of terrorism” and is an “existential threat”.