Clashes as Bahrain Grand Prix goes ahead

Formula One race takes place despite violence between anti-government protesters and police near the capital Manama.

The Formula One race has gone ahead despite ongoing clashes between Bahraini police and anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Manama.

Police fired birdshot and tear gas on Sunday to contain simmering resentment at a deadly crackdown by the Sunni royal family on Arab Spring-inspired protests that erupted two years ago led by the kingdom’s Shia Muslim majority.

Al Jazeera’s special correspondent, reporting from Manama, said that Sunday’s clashes had broken out at Al Jabrya secondary school, one kilometre from the centre of the capital. 

“Students have barricaded themselves in, we could see smoke from burning tyres and I’ve seen pictures of tear gas outside classrooms. We’re hearing reports that two students are injured,” she said.

... let's build upon the platform that we have, and let's celebrate this event with Bahrainis who are really passionate

by Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa

They are protesting because a fellow student was removed from the school last week by plain clothes police. He is still in custody.

“This has died down and now we are seeing sporadic clashes with police and protesters.” 

She said that the clashes were taking place in the west, away from the site of the Grand Prix, in the south.

Pro-democracy protesters had planned to reach the former Pearl Square in Manama, the focal point of anti-regime protests in February and March 2011, but were unlikely to be successful as it was being guarded by the National Guard, said our correspondent.

She said that people attending the race were likely to only see large plumes of smoke, a distance from the race, where protesters were being contained.

Both government and opposition parties have repeatedly urged students not to take up the political protest.

Our correspondent said that clashes had also been reported in Barbar after four police cars had entered the village to paint over anti-Formula One graffitti, but that no injuries had been reported. 

The country’s Shia-led opposition has also staged peaceful rallies that have drawn thousands of demonstrators demanding democratic reforms.

‘Celebrate the event’

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa said more than 15,000 people visited the circuit on Friday and more were expected on Sunday, despite the unrest.

He dismissed the suggestion the government was using the race to paper over human rights abuses.

“What I would like to say is let’s focus on what’s positive, let’s build upon the platform that we have, and let’s celebrate this event with Bahrainis who are really passionate,” he told reporters on Saturday at the Sakhir desert circuit, roughly 30km southwest of Manama.

But the Crown Prince admitted that talks between the government and opposition groups, aimed at breaking the political deadlock were moving too slowly.

Crown Prince Salman is a driving force behind talks between the government and main opposition groups aimed at breaking the political deadlock. He described the race as an opportunity to transcend national differences.

Carnival atmosphere 

However, in contrast to the Shia-inhabited villages where the clashes took place, there was little evidence of unrest in central Manama or around the race circuit at Sakhir, the AFP news agency reported.

Spectators at the circuit on Saturday for race qualifying enjoyed a carnival atmosphere, watching music and dance performances and other activities geared towards children.

Watched by millions around the world, the opposition has hoped to use the race to put the spotlight on its campaign.

The government has aimed to show unity and portrayed the protesters as trying to undermine Bahrain’s international image.

Bahrain is a key Western ally that hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.


Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies