Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific announced the shock resignation on Friday of its chief executive after the airline became ensnared in the Chinese territory’s huge anti-government protests.
Rupert Hogg said he was stepping down “to take responsibility … in view of recent events” after he faced pressure from Beijing to stop the airline’s employees from taking part in the rallies.
The demonstrations, which first erupted 10 weeks ago, are pushing for greater democracy in the Asian financial hub.
Cathay Chairman John Slosar said in a statement that recent events had called into question the airline’s commitment to flight safety and security and put its reputation and brand under pressure.
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‘Time for new leadership’
“The Board of Directors believes that it is the right time for new leadership to take Cathay Pacific forward,” he added.
Another senior Cathay executive, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Paul Loo, also announced his departure.
The company said Augustus Tang, the head of the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company would take over as CEO.
Hogg, who is credited with turning around the loss-making airline, fired four staff members over the past week due to their involvement in the protests. Just weeks earlier, the company said employees were free to take part.
Hong Kong’s protest movement shut down Asia’s fourth-busiest airport for two days this week
The dismissals followed a wave of attacks in China’s state media accusing Cathay of not doing enough to rein it its workers.
The criticism prompted a social media movement on the mainland calling for the boycott of the airline.
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Chinese airspace ban
The country’s aviation regulator then demanded that the carrier prevent protesting staff from working on flights to the mainland or those routed through Chinese airspace.
Forced into damage limitation mode, Cathay agreed to comply with the new regulations and released several statements supporting Hong Kong’s embattled government.
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Hong Kong’s protest movement, which initially started in opposition to the government’s plans to allow the extradition of suspects to the mainland, has morphed into a wider call for universal suffrage and other freedoms.
Critics say the autonomy agreed when the former British colony returned to China in 1997 is being eroded by Beijing.
At times, more than a million people have taken to the streets, presenting Chinese President Xi Jinping with his biggest popular challenge since he took office in 2012.
On several occasions, the protests have turned violent, and just this week, Hong Kong airport was shut down for two days as clashes erupted outside the terminal between demonstrators and riot police.
That prompted Beijing to condemn what it described as “terrorist-like” attacks on its citizens by pro-democracy protesters.
mm/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)
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