22 Apr 2012

Bahrain protests continue around F1 Grand Prix

Demonstrators in Bahrain protest today’s Grand Prix denouncing it as a gaudy spectacle, and continue to call for a change in government.

Today’s Grand Prix managed to proceed without interruption today, as drivers and fans wondered if demonstrators would succeed in stopping the race.

Some women did sneak in to the stadium to protests but YouTube pictures show they were quickly arrested.

The promised “day of rage” was apparently extinguished by the heavy police crackdown.

Sebastian Vettle started in pole and kept his lead – the reigning world champion still excited after 22 career victories. He said it was difficult race – but he didn’t meant the politics – he was talking about nearly running out of petrol.

As the Crown Prince handed over the trophy did he believe Bahrain is the real winner here?

He wanted this event to show life was back to normal in island kingdom after last years race had to be cancelled. Instead it has focussed attention on the ongoing unrest – the tear gas and rubber bullets required to allow the race to happen, while arresting journalists makes a mockery of their claims to openness.

Demonstrators in Bahrain protest today's Grand Prix denouncing it as a gaudy spectacle, and continue to call for a change in government.

In overnight clashes petrol bombs were thrown by protesters in Shi’ite villages around the capital, while police forces responded with teargas and rubber bullets.

Black smoke was seen rising from burning tyres over the village of Budaiya where mass protests were held earlier this week.

“Our initial demands were to elect a new government but after the disgusting abuse we received, all the people are asking for is for the regime to fall,” said protester Ahmed Madani during a march of 7,000 people on the eve of the race.

Opposition parties claim that a 37-year-old man found dead yesterday had been killed by riot police. Protester Salah Abbas Habib was found sprawled on a rooftop on Saturday after overnight clashes – and it provides more fuel for outrage among a Shi’ite Muslim majority that complains of being marginalised by ruling Sunnis.

Gulf monarchies to have been seriously threatened by Arab Spring protests that brought down the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen since the start of 2011.

The Bahrain government crushed protests last year, swept demonstrators off the streets and bulldozed the traffic circle where they had camped.

Thirty-five people, including security forces, died in that crackdown. Since then, Shi’ite areas have remained volatile and clashes have increased in recent months.

Channel 4 News team arrested in Bahrain

Channel 4 News' Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller and his team have been arrested whilst reporting from Bahrain.

Channel 4 News has been in contact with him and his team, and are concerned about the welfare of the team's local driver who was arrested and assaulted in front of the team, and then separated from them. When last seen he appeared to be bleeding from slashes to his arms.

Read more on the arrest here

The Bahrain government is hoping the Grand Prix event will show that life has returned to normal after anti-government demonstrations forced it to be ultimately cancelled last year.

However inside the “Forumula One bubble” the scenes of protest have had little impact. Teams assembled at Bahrain International Circuit amid the usual security precautions ahead of the race.

At hotels where race participants were staying, guests swam and relaxed poolside in the morning. The highway to the circuit was lined with police cars.

The Bahrain government says it is enacting reforms after last year’s clashes, but human rights groups say it is moving too slowly.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, said in a statement overnight he wanted “to make clear my personal commitment to reform and reconciliation in our great country. The door is always open for sincere dialogue amongst all our people.”

Bahrain, a close military ally of the United States, is the only one of the