[QODLink]
Middle East

Protests held in Bahrain ahead of Formula One

Thousands of Bahrainis rally under banner of "democracy is our right" ahead of Formula One Grand Prix race.

Last Modified: 12 Apr 2013 20:19
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Bahrain, where the US Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, has been hit by unrest since protests broke out in 2011 [Reuters]

Thousands of Bahrainis have demonstrated near the capital, Manama, urging democratic reforms, part of a series of protests planned by the political opposition ahead of next week's Formula One Grand Prix.

Under the banner "Democracy is our right," the crowds marched in the Shia area of Aali south of the capital, waving Bahraini flags and chanting anti-monarchy slogans on Friday.

Police stayed away from Friday's demonstration as protesters denounced king Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa and Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, his uncle.

"You have no legitimacy," they chanted.

Bahrain's mainly-Shia opposition bloc, Al-Wefaq, organised the protest as part of demonstrations due to take place from April 12-22 to coincide with the April 19-22 Grand Prix.

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the Al-Wefaq who was at the protest, said the action was intended to support "demands for democratic transition".

"We do not want to hold up the race, but we are trying to benefit from the increased media presence," he said.

Salman called on his supporters to attend a demonstration planned for April 19, as the event kicks off on the Sakhir circuit south of the capital.

A second opposition group, the February 14 Movement, organised another protest on Thursday night in the village of Khamis that was broken up by police.

Thursday night's demonstration came as a report by Human Rights Watch said that police have been rounding up pro-democracy activists in bid to head off protests.

'Your race is a crime'

"Your race is a crime," the protesters chanted, referring to motor racing bosses who have insisted on keeping the Bahrain Grand Prix on the Formula One calendar, witnesses said.

"Down with Hamad," they shouted in reference to the king, who heads a Sunni minority regime in the Shia-majority island state.

"The people want the fall of the regime," the demonstrators chanted, echoing the rallying cry of the Arab Spring revolts in 2011.

Clashes erupted when anti-riot police intervened to disperse the crowd and demonstrators responded with Molotov cocktails, witnesses said.

Bahrain, where the US Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, was rocked by month-long pro-democracy protests led by the kingdom's Shia majority in early 2011 that were crushed with the help of Saudi-led GCC troops.

Human rights groups say a total of 80 people have been killed since February 2011.

Last year's Formula One event went ahead against an ugly backdrop as police responded to protesters who were throwing petrol bombs by using tear gas, sound bombs and birdshot.

Meanwhile, former world champion Damon Hill has called on International Motoring Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt to take an ethical stance on the controversial event.

"I think Jean's approach is say nothing because otherwise you are being political," said Hill, who won the world title in 1996.

"I think that is a mistake because actually he is being political because he's being used, or the sport is perceived as being used, by its engagement in the economy and the reputation of the country."

495

Source:
Agencies
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
Featured
Amid vote audit and horse-trading, politicians of all hues agree a compromise is needed to avoid political instability.
Part of the joint accord aimed at ending the political impasse establishes an independent National Election Commission.
Rights groups say the US prosecution of terrorism cases targets Muslims and are fraught with abuses.
Local painters forgo experimentation to cater to growing number of foreign buyers.
Cyprus is a tax haven and has long attracted wealthy Russians, but it could become a European energy hub.
join our mailing list