Protests, clashes, death cast pall over Bahrain Grand Prix

Sat Apr 21, 2012 1:50pm EDT
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By Alan Baldwin

MANAMA (Reuters) - Crowds of masked protesters hurled petrol bombs at police who fired tear gas back in Bahrain on Saturday, turning the streets into a battle zone on the eve of a Formula One Grand Prix that demonstrators say glorifies a repressive government.

Protesters were fired up by outrage over the death of one of their number, whose body was found sprawled on a village rooftop after overnight clashes with police.

Around 7,000 marchers held banners calling for democratic reforms. Some banners depicted Formula One race car drivers as riot police beating up protesters.

Bahrain's government has spent $40 million to host the global luxury sporting event, hoping to demonstrate that normal life has returned to the Gulf island kingdom after it cracked down harshly on Arab Spring demonstrations last year.

But vivid televised images of streets ablaze threaten to embarrass Formula One and the global brands that lavish it with sponsorship.

"The government are using the Formula One race to serve their PR campaign," said rights activist Nabeel Rajab. "It's not turning out the way they wanted."

Reuters journalists in Diraz near the capital Manama said police tried to move protesters off a roundabout by firing tear gas. Demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails back.

Activists described clashes in several districts. Mohammed al-Maskati of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said police used tear gas, rubber bullets and sound bombs on a crowd of several hundred protesters trying to reach a main road in al-Bilad al-Qadeem, a Shi'ite neighborhood of Manama.   Continued...

Protesters, wearing t-shirts with an image of Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, shout anti-government slogans as they protest during a rally by Bahrain's main opposition party Al Wefaq in Budaiya, west of Manama, April 20, 2012. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed