21 Apr 2012

Tension before F1 race as riot police blamed for man’s death

On the eve of Bahrain’s Formula One Grand Prix race, opposition party blames riot police for protester’s death.

The body of Salah Abbas Habib, 37, was found on the roof of a building. He was part of a group beaten by police during overnight clashes, the government opposition party Wefaq said, adding that the exact cause of death was not clear.

“We haven’t got the body because the official investigators have surrounded the area but we understand he was beaten severely. His colleagues with him last night were beaten with batons and the butts of rifles used to shoot tear gas and bird shot,” Sayed Hadi al-Mousawi, a Wefaq official, said.

Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said via Twitter that it was launching an investigation. Violence has escalated in the run-up to the Grand Prix, which was cancelled last year due to political turmoil. State officials had hoped this year’s race would signal a return to normalcy in the Gulf Arab state, a stance rejected by opposition protesters.

Formula One to go ahead

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said the Formula 1 race should go on as scheduled, as its cancellation would play in the hands of “extremists.”

“The Formula One Race allows us to build bridges between communities, get people working together. It allows us to celebrate our nation as an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive”, he said in a statement to the Bahrain News Agency.

Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim ruling family has been grappling with unrest for a year, inspired by grassroots revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

The government tried to stop the protests with martial law and importing Saudi troops but opposition resumed street rallies. Younger protesters in mainly Shi’ite villages clash with riot police daily.

Activists said that more than 100 protest organisers were arrested this week. Police acknowledged arresting some people.

Wefaq and other opposition parties want a shift to parliamentary democracy, reducing the powers of the ruling Al Khalifa family, although some protesters reject the monarchy altogether. The government accuses the protesters of having a Shi’ite sectarian agenda back by Iran, something they deny.

Teargas clashes

Police used teargas over the weekend against masked youths throwing petrol bombs. Asked about the security forces, Al-Khalifa said he was aware that in the past year that there some security personnel were too heavy-handed, adding that they were held accountable.

Protesters also should not be given a “green light” to commit violent acts, he added.