Last updated: 15 April, 2012

Opposition calls for week of protests in Bahrain over F1 race

Bahrain’s Shiite opposition on Sunday announced a week of daily pro-democracy protests in the Gulf kingdom until after the controversial Formula One Grand Prix race scheduled for next Sunday, April 22.

Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest Shiite bloc, said on its website it plans sit-ins and demonstrations under the banner of “steadfastness and challenge,” starting on Sunday with a protest in Bilad al-Qadim, a Shiite village east of the capital.

The protests will take place in Shiite villages on the outskirts of Manama, including one on Tuesday near Bahrain’s International Airport, according to Al-Wefaq which has for months spearheaded calls for democratic reform.

Bahrain, where the majority of the population is Shiite Muslim, is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

Al-Wefaq said there are no plans for protests near the Sakhir circuit where the race will be held.

However, the “Revolution of February 14” youth group, whose members have repeatedly clashed with security forces, has called for “three days of rage” from April 20 to 22 to protest against the decision by motorsport chiefs to go ahead with the race.

Al-Wefaq leader Abdel Jalil Khalil told AFP by phone on Sunday the bloc would not try to prevent the race from happening but was organising the protests to “take advantage of this week’s race to highlight our political and democratic demands.”

International journalists have been routinely blocked from entering the tiny island kingdom since the the government cracked down on a month-long uprising in February 2011 which left 35 people dead, including five from torture, according to an independent investigation.

The Grand Prix controversy has once again swung the international media spotlight on the troubled kingdom, an opportunity the opposition says it will use to further publicise demands for greater equality and democracy.

The continued unrest in Bahrain, and the recent shooting and wounding of a 15-year-old boy by riot police, has increased pressure on race organisers and participating teams to boycott the event.

On Friday, however, both F1 governing body the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone declared that the race would go ahead as scheduled.

The US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch condemned the decision, arguing that it would be exploited by the ruling dynasty “to obscure the seriousness of the country’s human rights situation.”

The F1 race was cancelled last year in the wake of the Shiite-led uprising and the brutal government crackdown that followed.