Police, Protesters Clash in Bahrain

Posted April 21st, 2012 at 1:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Security forces in Bahrain's capital, Manama, have confronted protesters as tensions continue to rise ahead of Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix.

Demonstrators on the outskirts of the city lobbed Molotov cocktails at the police, who retaliated with tear gas.

Anti-government demonstrators called for protests in the days leading up to the race, and on Friday they turned violent as the demonstrators called for an elected government and equal rights.

Protesters blame security forces for the death of a man whose body was found Saturday in a village on the outskirts of Manama, where the violence took place. Bahrain's interior ministry announced Saturday it is investigating the death of the man the al-Wefaq opposition group has identified as Salah Abbas Habib. The ministry said the man appears to have died under “suspicious circumstances.”

Thousands of protesters rallied across Bahrain Friday. Activists and witnesses say security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets in an effort to disperse the crowds.

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

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

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.

Some Bahrainis talking to Western media Friday said they were growing weary of the protests, questioning if they could make any difference. Businessman Razan Abdulaal was one of them.

“I believe a protest is inherent right, we all have the right to protest right, but I don't know if you are referring to protesters or rioters because there is a very big difference.”

Abdullah al-Zayed also supported the demonstrators right to protest but said the protests themselves might be doing more harm than good.

“I will not bring the country to a standstill and promote my demands in these three days, go out in tens of thousands and shutdown Manama's market because there are tourists coming. Why? Go on and close down Manama's market but it doesn't have to be during these three days.''

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.