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Bahrain GP on - despite protest

2013-04-21 08:33

RACE-CAR EFFIGY BURNED: Young anti-government protesters in Bahrain made plain their antipathy to the 2013 F1 GP being held there by burning an effigy of an F1 race car. Image: AFP


MANAMA, Bahrain - The Formula 1 GP booked for this desert island will go ahead on Sunday despite ongoing opposition protests and street violence.

Though the anger is directed at the government, protesters have burned effigies of F1 cars and young men have frequently fought with police in the Gulf Arab country - a Western ally that hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet - since protests broke out in February 2011.

'15 000 AT CIRCUIT'

The country's Shi'ite-led opposition has also staged peaceful rallies that have drawn thousands of demonstrators who want democratic reform from the Sunni-led government but the Bahrain F1 GP which many in the opposition dismiss as a distraction from the country's political problems will go ahead today (April 21).

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 denied the government was using the race to paper over human-rights abuses.

"Let's focus on what's positive," he said on Saturday at the Sakhir race circuit 30km from Manama, the capital. "Let's build on the platform we have, let's celebrate this event."

The prince is driving talks between the government and main opposition groups and says he wants to break the political deadlock. The GP was "an opportunity to transcend national differences".


Protests broke out on Saturday in about 20 villages around Manama, human-rights activists said, with protesters throwing stones at police and security forces responding with tear gas in many cases.

Reuters could not independently verify most of the reports but a Reuters witness saw young men scuffle with police in the Sanabis area west of the capital.

The government denies making arbitrary arrests and using torture and says any reports of wrongdoing by its security forces are investigated.


In contrast to the Shi'ite-inhabited villages where the clashes took place, there was little evidence of unrest in central Manama or around the race circuit where spectators watched qualifying on Saturday in a carnival atmosphere with music and dance and activities geared towards children.

Watched by millions around the world, the opposition hoped to use the race to highlight its pro-democracy campaign. The government hoped to show unity and portrayed the protesters as trying to undermine Bahrain's international image.

"This weekend is really about sport," Salman said.


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