Protests Erupt Ahead of Bahrain’s F1 Race

Posted April 20th, 2012 at 5:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Thousands of protesters have rallied across Bahrain in an attempt to use the country's Formula One auto race to draw international attention to their plight.

Activists and witnesses say security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets in an effort to disperse demonstrators as practice for Sunday's race took place on Friday.

Anti-government groups led by the country's Shi'ite majority have called for “days of rage,” coinciding with the three days of action at the circuit in Sakhir, south of the capital Manama.

Jasim Husain, a member of the opposition Wefaq party, spoke to VOA from Manama on Friday. He said demonstrators are seeking greater representation in Bahrain's minority Sunni-led government.

Protesters are asking for, are calling for, an elected government based on parliamentary results, having fair and equal districts. They want to make sure there is no discrimination in the country and we have equal opportunity for all.”

The Force India Grand Prix team pulled out of Friday's practice session citing security concerns. Two members of the Indian team left Bahrain after firebombs landed near the team's race car on Wednesday.

Last year's Bahrain Grand Prix was postponed and later canceled because of demonstrations.

Bahrain's crown prince Salman bin Hamad bin al-Khalifa said on Friday rejected calls to cancel this year's race, saying that that would only empower “extremists.”

The ruling family is eager to host this year's Grand Prix as way to illustrate to portray stability in the strategic kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

German driver Nico Rosberg in a Mercedes emerged as the frontrunner after a second free practice session on Friday. Rosberg won last week's Formula One race in Shanghai.