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HONG KONG (Reuters) - At least 1,000 protesters thronged the arrivals hall of Hong Kong's international airport on Sunday to rally against what they see as an abuse of privilege involving the Hong Kong leader and his daughter.
While there were no reports of flight delays or cancellations, the protest could prove an embarrassment for the Beijing-backed Leung Chun-ying, who many expect to seek a second term of office next year when his five-year term ends.
Chanting "Safeguard the sky of Hong Kong" and holding signs demanding Leung step down, the protesters staged a three-hour sit-in as international travelers streamed by at one of Asia's busiest aviation hubs.
The demonstrators said they were angered by a March incident involving one of Leung's daughters at the airport after she accidentally left a carry-on bag outside. Some accused Leung of exercising his privileges as Hong Kong's leader to get airport staff to deliver the bag to his daughter in the airport's restricted area even though regulations say that bags must go through security with their owners.
"It's not fair asking frontline staff to bring in something (to the airport's restricted area) which is unidentified or unattended for a period of time," said Dora Lai, a senior member the Hong Kong Cabin Crew Association, which organized the protest
Organizers said about 2,500 people participated in the rally, while police put the turnout at 1,000 at its peak.
Leung stressed he had not put pressure on airport authority officials or used any privilege over his daughter's bag, but said he did speak to airline staff using his daughter's mobile phone.
The government said it understood the public's concern about aviation security, but that the bag went through security checks before entering the restricted area, and aviation safety was not in any way compromised by the incident.
An investigation is continuing into the matter.
Some tourists said they understood the protesters' cause but the controversy had tarnished their impressions of Hong Kong.
"It should not have this kind of thing," said Maraiah Gavarasu, a Malaysian on holiday in Hong Kong. "You should have peace and calm. So for foreigners it looks like, hey, something (is) wrong, you know? It's a bad impression."
The embattled Leung has seen his popularity ratings reach new lows this year, as he has struggled to mitigate growing social tensions after massive youth-led pro-democracy protests in late 2014 put pressure on Beijing's Communist Party leaders to grant the city full democracy.
Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 amid promises that Beijing would allow the financial hub a high degree of autonomy, including an independent judiciary.
Editing by James Pomfret and Andrew Bolton