Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Anti-F1 protesters set tyres ablaze to block a road in the Jid Hafs village on the outskirts of Manama.
Anti-F1 protesters set tyres ablaze to block a road in the Jid Hafs village on the outskirts of Manama.

Clashes erupt in Bahrain on eve of F1 race

Shiites accuse race of being a public relations ploy to cover up political unrest, and vow to step up protests during this weekend's event. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

Clashes between protesters and security forces erupted in several Shiite villages across Bahrain yesterday as authorities vowed to ensure security at this weekend's Formula One Grand Prix.

Opposition supporters have called for stepped-up protests during the race weekend to demand reform and an end to what they say is the economic and political marginalisation of the Shiite community on the island.

Bahraini authorities and F1 officials, however, say that the high-profile race will be a boost to the country's economy and efforts to end the political crisis.

Jean Todt, the head of F1's governing body, wrote to Bahraini rights groups that "sport, and the F1 Grand Prix, can have a positive and healing effect in situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions are causing distress", according to a copy of the letter obtained by Reuters.

Formula One is a unifying force for Bahrain despite continuing unrest in the country, the circuit chairman, Zayed Alzayani, said yesterday.

Mr Alzayani said that security arrangements for the event were the same as last year and suggested that any protesters who resorted to violence would be guilty of 'terrorism'.

"I am totally against violence. No matter what cause you have, you have no right to disrupt the normal cause of life for others in the country," he said. "That's not democracy, that's terrorism. there's no two ways about it."

The unrest comes as talks continue among representatives of all the island's political groups. The talks, known as the National Dialogue, are aimed at resolving a political crisis that began in early 2011 when protesters, inspired by the Arab Spring, took to the streets.

A group of 27 representatives from across Bahraini political society have held bi-weekly meetings since February aimed at drawing up proposals for reform.

But the continuing protests have exposed a growing divide within the mainly-Shiite opposition over how to press forward with demands for change.

At demonstrations yesterday, many protesters carried signs demanding the cancellation of the Grand Prix, as the government did in 2011 at the height of unrest.

"The protesters believe that F1 is political support, and the government will use it as PR [to say] that nothing is wrong in Bahrain," said Said Yousif Al Muhafhda, head of documentation at the Bah- rain Centre for Human Rights.

The mainstream political opposition groups involved in the National Dialogue, however, say they are not against the race and want their demonstrations to remain peaceful.

"The mainstream opposition has one priority, which is the political solution and we're focusing on that," said Khalil Al Marzouq, spokesman for the largest Shiite opposition bloc, Al Wefaq. "We have no position for or against F1."

Al Wefaq and four smaller opposition groups have planned pro-democracy demonstrations for the weekend. The five groups said that they hoped to stress "the necessity to adopt an urgent political project to change the current situation in Bahrain".

Meanwhile, the most extreme unrest in recent days has been carried out by a youth group calling itself the February 14 Coalition, after the date the country's uprising began in 2011. In recent days, the group has blocked roads with tyres and hurled Molotov cocktails.

The US Embassy has warned its citizens that the group's new tactics could include using improvised explosive devices to disrupt traffic.

A coalition of pro-government political societies, also participants in the National Dialogue, issued a statement yesterday denouncing "terrorist acts" that they said "revealed the extent of threat to civil peace". The statement called for the Ministry of the Interior to "restore stability".

Qualifying for the race begins tomorrow, with the Grand Prix scheduled for Sunday.


* With additional reporting from Reuters

twitter: For breaking news from the Gulf, the Middle East and around the globe follow The National World. Follow us

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greeted by university students as he leaves Sistan University in Sistan and Baluchestan’s provincial capital of Zahedan on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

In Iran’s most troubled province, Rouhani hears pleas for change

Hassan Rounani aims to connect with residents of far-flung Sistan and Baluchestan province.

 Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Riyadh on March 3, 2007. Hassan Ammar / AFP Photo

Saudi Prince Bandar promised a victory he could not deliver

Saudi Arabia's controversial intelligence chief stepped down this week after rumours that his policies on Syria had fallen out of favour.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen. AFP Photo

The inner workings of Gulen’s ‘parallel state’

Fethullah Gulen's followers are accused of trying to push Turkey's prime minister from power.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National