Hundreds of Bahraini protesters have taken to the streets of Manama, the country’s capital, after an opposition call for a week of anti-government demonstrations to coincide with the Formula One Grand Prix set to be hosted by the Gulf state.
Sunday’s protest was the first in a week of planned daily demonstrations and sit-ins called by al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest Shia opposition political party, to last through the end of the international racing event scheduled for April 22.
Al-Wefaq said the pro-democracy protests under the banner of “steadfastness and challenge” would take place in Shia villages on the outskirts of Manama, including one on Tuesday near Bahrain’s international airport.
The party said there are no plans for protests near the Sakhir circuit where the F1 race will be held.
Grand Prix controversy
Al-Wefaq leader Abdel Jalil Khalil told AFP that the bloc would not try to prevent the event but was organising protests to “take advantage of this week’s race to highlight our political and democratic demands”.
Foreign journalists have been routinely blocked from entering the country since the government cracked down on an uprising in February and March 2011, killing at least 35 people.
The Grand Prix controversy has for the second time shed the international media spotlight on the troubled kingdom, an opportunity the opposition says will use to publicise demands for greater equality and democracy.
Bahrain’s cabinet insisted in a statement on Sunday that the decision by Formula One’s governing body to go ahead with the race reflected “confidence in the country’s security and stability”.
The shooting and wounding of a 15-year-old boy by riot police last week had increased pressure on race organisers and participating teams to boycott the event.
On Friday, both the sport’s governing body, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile), and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone announced the race will take place as scheduled.
Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights watchdog, condemned the decision, arguing the sporting event would be exploited “to obscure the seriousness of the country’s human rights situation”.