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21 Apr, 2013 11:42

‘Race for blood’: Police clash with protesters ahead of Bahrain Grand Prix

Bahrain's F1 Grand Prix starts amid tensions, as police scuffled with local activists who blocked roads protesting against the race they brand a “race for blood.” Mass protests have been calling for democracy and an end to the monarchy’s autocratic rule.

Masked youths clashed with police, piling tires on to roads and setting them alight in Shiite villages surrounding the capital city, Manama, a witness told AFP news agency. During the night riot officers fired teargas into crowds of enraged protesters chanting against the race.

However, in spite of protesters’ efforts, access to the Sakhir circuit to the south of the capital remains open.

Tensions have been building over the last few weeks in the run up to the grand prix and have intensified over the last few days. The protesters claim the F1 event overshadows the ruling Bahraini Sunni royal family’s many human rights abuses and repression of the country’s Shiite population.

Despite criticism of the event being included on the Formula 1 calendar, Bahrain’s leaders have assured the race will go off without a hitch.

"Police are out in force to beef up security measures at the Bahrain International Circuit,"
Bahrain's public security chief, Major General Tariq Hassan, said in a statement. He added that they wanted to ensure a smooth race.

Amnesty International has called the event a “show” to try and whitewash the human rights image of the country, "whilst stepping up repression in order to ensure nothing disturbs their public image.”

Saeed Shehabi, a leading figure in Bahrain’s Freedom Movement said that in spite of regime attempts to exploit the race to legitimize their rule, the event will be a public relations disaster.

“The people of Bahrain have made their point very clear,” he told RT. “They do not want the race to be exploited by a dictatorial regime to legitimize its existence.”

He stressed that the future looks especially bleak for the country because the regime is not heeding the people’s calls for reform.

“It reflects the reality that the regime is stupid. It is stupid because it is arresting human rights activists,” Shehabi told RT.

Bahrain has also being criticized for attempting to curb international press coverage of the event. On Friday three journalists were asked to leave Bahrain for exercising media activities without obtaining a license from the competent authorities. The journalists maintain they had had all of the necessary documentation approved by the Bahraini authorities.

The US, usually reluctant to openly criticize Bahrain’s regime, published a Department of State statement on the same days the journalists were ejected. It slammed the ruling Sunni government for “firing or attacking civilian and professional journalists; and proposing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.”

The US Fifth Naval Fleet headquarters are stationed in the island nation.

One of the best-known cases of the Bahraini regime putting a gag on human rights critics was the incarceration of activist Nabeel Rajab, who openly criticized the regime.

Following an interview with Julian Assange on his RT show The World Tomorrow, Rajab was detained. His wife said he was thrown into solitary confinement almost immediately where he was subjected to inhumane conditions.