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Bahrain protesters, police clash ahead of Grand Prix

Bahrain protesters, police clash ahead of Grand Prix

Al Manar

Bahrain imposed a security lockdown around its Formula One Grand Prix circuit Sunday, following weekend clashes and protests in nearby villages that caused the death of one person.

Renewed clashes broke out in overnight between hundreds of anti-government protesters and police, witnesses said on Sunday, only hours before the Gulf nation stages a Formula One race.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at peaceful protesters who responded by chanting “Down with Hamad,” in reference to the country’s King, AFP reported.

Demonstrators also called for the release of prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, on hunger strike since early February and whose deteriorating health has raised fears he may die in prison.

Security around many villages was heavy late Saturday, in anticipation of demonstrations called for by the February 14 Youth Movement, who have boycotted the race and pledged “three days of rage” to coincide with the Grand Prix event.

The Sakhir circuit meanwhile, where Sunday’s race is set to take place, was under a total lockdown, but witnesses said protesters were briefly able to block some roads leading to the track, setting tyres on fire.

In some other villages, including Malkiya, Karzakan, Sadad and Damistan, protesters carried banners that read “No to the formula of blood,” a key campaign slogan of the February 14 movement.

In the capital Manama, meanwhile, police prevented protests at a central market, residents and witnesses said.

The latest clashes come a day after a protester was found dead in the Shiite village of Shakhura, where the opposition Al-Wefaq movement said security forces on Friday night “attacked peaceful protesters, brutally beating some of them with various tools and weapons.”

The interior ministry said an investigation was under way into the death of 36-year-old Salah Abbas Habib, which was being treated as a murder.

One of Saleh’s relatives told AFP that Habib “was taking part in the protest in Shakhura on Friday and was arrested by security forces while other protesters managed to flee.”

Witnesses told AFP that security forces fired tear gas and sound bombs to disperse dozens of people who gathered where Habib’s body was found.

Peaceful protests have intensified in Bahrain, site of a deadly month-long uprising that was crushed last year, but the kingdom’s rulers have insisted the race go ahead as schedule.

“I think cancelling just empowers extremists,” Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said on Friday.

A planned march towards the circuit did not go ahead because of a heavy security presence, where dozens of armored vehicles were deployed on roads leading to Sakhir, and security gates were set up and bags were thoroughly searched at entrances.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he spoke by telephone to his Bahraini counterpart “to call for restraint in dealing with protests including during the Formula One race and to urge further progress in implementing political reforms.”

The head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, Mohammed Maskati, has said the protests were “a message to those taking part in the F1 race to bring their attention to human rights violations in Bahrain.”

Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) in a statement deplored what it called “the breaches of press freedom by the Bahraini authorities” ahead of the Grand Prix.

It said King Hamad had “given assurances that Bahrain is an open society but the organization has recorded numerous breaches of freedom of information since the start of the year.”

RSF said last year it ranked Manama “among the 10 most dangerous places for journalists,” and said so far it has seen “no significant improvement.”

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Bahraini forces arrest Zainab al-Khawaja

Press TV

Saudi-backed Bahraini security forces have arrested the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the prominent jailed activist who has been on a hunger strike for more than two months.

Zainab al-Khawaja was arrested on Saturday for protesting against her father’s detention.

Meanwhile, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said on Saturday that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has stopped drinking water.

The Bahraini activist has also asked to see his lawyer to write his will…

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