Bahrain opposition rallies as F1 practices kick-off
- Published: 19/04/2013 at 09:49 AM
- Online news:
Bahrain's Shiite opposition are set to gather on Friday for mass rallies to highlight pro-reform demands as Formula One Grand Prix practice sessions kicked-off, unaffected by unrest away from the circuit.
A Bahraini young girl poses during clashes between protesters and riot police in the village of Diraz, on April 18, 2013. Bahrain's Shiite opposition are set to gather for mass rallies to highlight pro-reform demands as Formula One Grand Prix practice sessions kicked-off, unaffected by unrest away from the circuit.
Meanwhile, the world motorsport's governing body the FIA and promoters Formula One Management said the race should take place on Sunday, despite the demonstrations.
"The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and Formula One Management (FOM) wish to jointly confirm their belief that the Bahrain GP should go ahead this weekend, following assurances from the local promoter and the authorities that security, their responsibility, will be guaranteed for all participants," a statement read.
The tiny kingdom was quiet early on Friday as police heavily patrolled Manama and villages surrounding it preventing a new round clashes similar to violence that raged throughout the night, witnesses said.
The radical February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition, a clandestine cyber-group, had called for a "Day of Rage," urging demonstrators to take to the streets against the "blood Formula". Other opposition groups also called for protests but urged that they be peaceful.
The February 14 group said on Twitter its supporters had burned tyres and blocked major roads Thursday night, and witnesses confirmed that protesters had blocked roads near Bahrain International Airport.
Witnesses reported that police had fired stun grenades and tear gas at protesters who burnt tyres, blocked main roads and threw stones and petrol bombs at security forces.
"No Formula on Bahrain's occupied land," chanted the protesters. "No, no blood Formula."
The clashes remained away from roads leading to the Sakhir circuit south of Manama, where Sunday's race is to take place.
Supporters of the more moderate Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq gathered in a peaceful protest on Thursday in the village of Karzakan, three kilometres (1.3 miles) from Sakhir.
The opposition was amassing supporters for a massive protest to be held later on Friday on the Budaya highway, four kilometres west of Manama, which links a string of Shiite-populated villages with the capital.
Al-Wefaq has urged on its Twitter page that participants demonstrate in a "disciplined and civilised way that suits our people."
Security forces are on high alert to prevent clashes from marring the race, which is seen as a booster to the image and economy of the tiny Gulf monarchy torn by Arab Spring-inspired unrest.
Checkpoints were set up at major intersections, particularly on roads leading to the Sakhir circuit.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain, home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, was rocked by month-long protests led by the kingdom's Shiite majority in early 2011. They were crushed with the help of Gulf troops led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Al-Wefaq members have repeatedly said they do not oppose the event but want their protests to be heard internationally and to press for solidarity from participating teams.
Government spokeswoman Samira Rajab said: "Bahrain is ready to host the F1 and there are no security issues," dismissing the protests as "childish movements implementing Iranian agendas... that will not affect the race."
Police have been rounding up pro-democracy activists in an attempt to head off protests.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch accused Formula One of "ignoring rights abuses". Security forces in Bahrain had "increased their repressive actions in the lead up to the 2013 race," the group added.
Bahrain International Circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani said he hoped to fill the grandstands and to have a crowd of more than 25,000 at the race day on Sunday, insisting it was safe to go ahead with the race.
Alzayani said he and organisers were focused on ensuring that the race passed off without incident.
The event was cancelled in 2011 but went ahead last year.
Strategically situated across the Gulf from Shiite-ruled Iran, Bahrain has continued to witness sporadic demonstrations, now mostly outside the capital.
Human rights groups say a total of 80 people have been killed in the unrest in Bahrain since February 2011.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency