April 21, 2012

Bahrain F1 continue despite protests, riots (VIDEO | 9 PICS)

Formula One race subject to mounting global outcry after discovery of body of protester allegedly abducted from village by military

Bahrain's Formula One grand prix will go ahead despite a growing international outcry about the staging of the race in the Gulf state that intensified on Saturdayfollowing the discovery of the body of a protester allegedly abducted from a village by security forces.

With dozens of armoured personnel carriers guarding the main route to the circuit, the decision by F1 and the Sunni minority royal family to push ahead with the event – partly to help convince the world of Bahrain's return to normality – appeared to be degenerating into a human rights and PR catastrophe.

Despite claims by F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone and regime officials that the race was safe and the threat of violence "hyped", the buildup to the contest has been marked by increasingly large anti-government demonstrations that have been put down with teargas, birdshot and stun grenades.

On Friday, activists began what they described as the first of "three days of rage" against Bahrain's rulers. There were reports last night that police firing teargas canisters were confronting protesters hurling petrol bombs.

The ruling al-Khalifa family has depicted the race — which is expected to draw an audience of about 100 million — as a "force for good" and an event that will unite Bahrain.

At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February 2011 in the longest-running street battles of the Arab Spring. Bahrain's Shia majority is seeking to break the near-monopoly on power by the ruling Sunni dynasty, which has close ties to the west and Saudi Arabia.

Wefaq official Sayed Hadi al-Mousawi said it was not clear what caused Habib's death. "We haven't got the body because the official investigators have surrounded the area, but we understand he was beaten severely. His colleagues with him last night were beaten with batons and the butts of rifles used to shoot teargas and birdshot." Bahrain's interior ministry described Habib as having suffered "a wound to his left side".

Wefaq, the leading party among Bahrain's restive Shia population, published a photograph of Habib's body splayed on a corrugated-iron rooftop.

Bahrain security forces fire teargas at protesters during clashes near the site where the body of Salah Abbas was found. Photograph: Mazen Mahdi/EPA
According to activists, Habib had been among a small group protesting in the village of Abusaiba on Friday night when it was stormed by security forces. According to some reports, he was one of three people injured.

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