Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

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A picture released by Bahrain's main opposition Al-Wefaq group on 20 April, 2012, shows thousands of Bahraini protesters rally against Bahrain's controversial upcoming Grand Prix just west of the capital Manama. (Photo: AFP – Al-Wefaq)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Welcome to Al-Akhbar's coverage of today's Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain, which went ahead despite huge protests by opposition activists.

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  • Grand Prix passes by but activists arrested

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    07:30pm

    That's about it for our coverage from the Grand Prix today. Here is a recap of the day's events:

     

    • The Bahrain Grand Prix went ahead, despite all of Bahrain's leading opposition figures urging for it to be abandoned.
    • The race passed largely without incident, though pictures showed the race track was far from full.
    • Shortly after the race finished a group of up to ten women inside the stadium held up posters in support of hunger striker Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. The women were all arrested, with claims that at least one was beaten by security services.
    • Outside the stadium activists attempted to reclaim Pearl Square, a key meeting point for activists last year, but were forces back by security services.
    • Dozens of people have been arrested, including prominent opposition leader Ala'a Shehabi and others.
    • Al-Khawaja remains in critical condition, with his daughter telling <i>Al-Akhbar</i> she feared for his life.
    • Opposition leaders have said they are concerned that after the Grand Prix ends and the tourists leave, that Bahrain will continue to be divded and receive relatively little media coverage.

     

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 19:30

  • Leading activist Ala'a Shehabi arrested

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    06:44pm

    Leading activist Ala'a Shehabi has just tweeted that she was arrested.

    We are seeking confirmation of this news and just tried to contact her, but unsurprisingly her phone cut off.

    Shehabi has been key in negotiating with Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone in the run up to the race, and has repeatedly argued the FIA should have cancelled the race.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 18:44

  • Activists fail to reach Pearl Square

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    06:41pm

    Activists have again failed to make it to Pearl Square as they were beaten back by security forces, according to Said Yousif, deputy head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

    Yousif said activists had been pushed back and "at least three" had been arrested while trying to get to Pearl Square.

    He said there was now a break in the protests as it was prayer time but added further action were expected later in the evening.

    "For Lulu Square it is over but I think there will be more tonight. Now is the prayer time, most people will go home now. They will come back at 7.30-8 but normally the evening stuff is different."

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 18:41

  • Violent crackdown as protests continue

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    06:21pm

    There are increasing signs that the protests are being suppressed with violence, with activists posting pictures of violent clashes on Twitter.

    Also below is a video which claims to show the arrest of one of the 10 women arrested over the protests inside the Formula One stadium.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 18:21

  • Beaten woman named

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    05:50pm

    We just spoke with Maryam again and she said she was certain one woman had been severely beaten by security forces after breaking into the Formula One arena.

    She that the information came from a colleague with sources in the area.

    She named the woman who was beaten as Zainab Al-Sahlawi, a Bahraini activist who Tweets under the handle of @ZainabAlmughlaq

    Al-Akhbar could not independently verify this information.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 17:50

  • Activists inside the Formula One

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    05:21pm

    Activists are tweeting that 10 female activists are inside the Formula One compound and have been arrested. @Maj_70 has attached a picture, which has not been independently verified.

    Maryam herself has just tweeted that there are reports of the activists being beaten.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 17:21

  • Maryam Al-Khawaja gives update on father, sister

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    05:12pm

    Maryam Al-Khawaja, the daughter of hunger striker Abdulhadi, has been speaking to us in the past few minutes about her father's condition.

    Abdulhadi is on the 73rd of his hunger strike and doctors have said he is in serious danger of organ failure.

    "My mother is waiting for his call. He is refusing to be given IV if unconcious and still refusing water," she said.

    Asked whether she feared he would die she said "we are concerned but my father always used to say there are two types of freedom: freedom of the soul and freedom of the body. He is going to get one or the other."

    Maryam's sister Zainab, known for her blogging under the pseudonym @angryarabiya, was arrested last night and Maryam also had an update on her.

    "She just called my mother and told her they are keeping her. She refused to go to public prosecution. Usually when they go to public prosecution they decide if you will be charged or not."

    Asked why Zainab would take that decision, she said "I can guess because its because nobody really believes in the legal system. Zainab's mentality is you can only bring about the fall of the regime when you stop treating it as a government."

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 17:12

  • Pictures show protest

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    04:56pm

    Pictures are coming in courtesy of @onlineBahrain that show clashes between protesters and security forces as activists attempt to make it to Pearl Square.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 16:56

  • Race finishes, with Vettel on top

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    04:48pm

    The race has come to an end, with Sebastian Vettel finishing ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

    The protests are due to start around now, with thousands expected to gather and try to close down the roads back to the capital Manama.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 16:48

  • Opposition politician calls for dialogue

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    04:39pm

    More from that interview we did earlier with Mattar Ebrahim Mattar, a leading figure in the opposition Al-Wefaq party.

    Much has been made about the stalemate in Bahrain, with both sides claiming the other is not willing to compromise.

    Asked why the Grand Prix was such a problem, Mattar said it was because it allowed the regime to go on pretending that nothing was happening in the Gulf statelet.

    He added that before any meaningful negotiations could happen the government first had to admit the scale of the crisis.

    "The government must deal with this by first admitting that there is a struggle in the country and it needs to be resolved through dialogue and real political reform. Without admitting that we have a problem we cannot move forward.," he said.

    In Bahrain and in any authoritarian country around the world don't have anything to offer. You are asking them to give part of their power to the people – usually they refuse to do it. We are the opposition, we want to resolve this conflict and see an exit from this crisis. We are ready to negotiate and we are ready to look for a road map. If it cannot be accomplished in one day let us sit down together and start the process.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 16:39

  • Race continues ahead of protests

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    04:20pm

    The race is continuing and is by all accounts a bit of a thriller, albeit in front of a very small crowd.

    Pantomime villain Sebastian Vettel (see 11.40) is still in the lead, but Lewis Hamilton has fallen away and is now tenth.

    Red Bull Racing's German driver Sebastian Vettel leads after the start on April 22, 2012 at the Bahrain International circuit in Manama during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo:AFP – Tom Gandolfini)

    The race has not been disrupted by any violence, and protests have been kept away from the track.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 16:20

  • Activists to head back towards Pearl Roundabout

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    03:52pm

    Leading opposition figure Ala'a Shehabi has just told us that protests are due to break out across the country shortly after the race finishes.

    Shehabi, head of the Bahrain Watch website which tracks the government's failures to introduce reforms, said activists were aiming to get back to Pearl Square, the base of protests last year until they were crushed by Bahraini and GCC troops.

    She said they were setting off from five villages near the square: Sanabis, Jidhafs, Daih, Zinj and Bilad Al-Qadeem.

    "Things are due to kick off about 4-5, they will head back towards the Pearl Roundabout."

    "It will be faced with repression and the security forces won't let the protests be, they will use stun grenades and tear gas," she said.

    "The government already think it can't get much worse than this in terms of media coverage so they don't really care about what happens."

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 15:52

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  • Al-Khalifa arrives

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    03:21pm

    Here is one of the men at the center of all the controversy arriving

    Opposition leaders have accused King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of being opposed to meaningful reform.

    King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa arrives at the Sakhir circuit in Manama to attend the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix, 22 April, 2012. (Photo: Reuters – Mahammad al-Hindi)

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 15:21

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  • Race begins

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    03:09pm

    And the race begins, go, go, go.

    But the stadium is only half full at best, according to pictures coming in from Twitter.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 15:09

  • Update from politician on the ground

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    02:50pm

    Just received an update from Mattar Ebrahim Mattar, a former opposition MP until the Al-Wefaq group left parliament after the crackdown on protesters last year.

    He has been doing a tour of the opposition villages north of Manama and assessing the condition of the main roads which lead to the circuit.

    He said that despite the wishes of the protesters, few roads had been closed as security services were out in force.

    "People were trying to block the roads with burning tires but security is everywhere, they come and open the road immediately," he said.

    He also confirmed that the family of Salah Abbas Habib, an activist who was killed on Friday night, had still not been able to take his body to prepare for a funeral.

    "By denying his family the right to see his body it indicates that he was killed by the regime. There were deep wounds inside him which reflect a criminal act. All of his friends were tortured severely," he said.

    "The regime is violating a basic right for the family to receive the body of their victim."

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 14:50

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  • Anonymous hacks government information

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    02:20pm

    More on the online hacktivist group Anonymous (see 11.27) who are now claiming to have hacked into the servers for Formula One and taken the personal information of those attending today's race.

    A statement from the group said they wanted to add some "additional excitement " to the day but doesn't mention what, if anything, they plan to do with the information.

    "As the media has already reported, we have DDOSed or defaced a number of sites associated with F1, which has gone ahead with its event in a country that has been the subject of a brutal government for over a year. On top of it all, we have decided to contribute some additional excitement to the day by hacking F1’s servers and taking the personal information of those attending the race, among other things," it said.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 14:20

  • All roads are open

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    02:10pm

    The Bahraini Ministry of Interior has released a statement on Twitter saying that the situation is calm and all roads are open as normal.

    Despite that claim Ian Parkes, a journalist with the Press Association, has said that the stadium for the race is largely empty, with little over an hour to go before the race.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 14:10

  • Police 'carrying Molotov cocktails'

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    01:52pm

    @iHussainBH has tweeted a picture which he says shows Bahraini security forces carrying Molotov cocktails.

    We must stress that this picture is unverified and it cannot be used as evidence that such weapons are being used against protesters.

    Last month Bahrian's Minister of Interior promised to investigate a video on YouTube which appeared to show security forces throwing a molotov cocktail at protesters.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 13:52

  • Smoke near race track

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    01:37pm

    Activists on tweeting pictures which appear to show smoke billowing near the Grand Prix circuit.

    The pictures, which are unverified, do not show the source of the fire but do suggest the trouble is getting closer to the race track than organizers would have liked.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 13:37

  • Man killed

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    01:22pm

    Opposition leader Ala'a Shehabi has posted a picture which she claims is the body of Salah Abbas Habib, who was killed on Friday night by security forces.

    A photo Salah Abbas Habib's body (Photo: Ala'a Shehabi)

    "Photo of Salah Abbas's body shows very dense shotgun pellet wounds proving he was shot intentionally & at close range," she said.

    See 12.37 for the ongoing controversy about his funeral.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 13:22

  • World's commentators offer opinions on the race

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    12:52pm

    Three interesting comment pieces on the today's race.

    Preethi Nallu argues the race should be used to highlight the plight of hunger striker Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been refusing food for over 70 days.

    The hunger strike of the country's most well-known human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has finally “earned” the attention of worldwide media. Despite being in a prison cell, the hunger striker has become the beating pulse of protests in Bahrain, with his photos and posters splashed across the streets and banners calling for his immediate release. After months of torture and 70 days into a painfully prolonged "fast for freedom" al-Khawaja is finally “news.”

    Richard Williams, in The Guardian, blames the crisis on Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, who he accuses of abandoning all morals to chase the money.

    His willingness to tear up its traditional roots and follow the money into new territories opened the way for an eventual collision between a spectacle whose audience is still largely European and countries with non-democratic systems of government. Bahrain is the wrong time and the wrong place in which to maintain the pretence that sport is sport and politics is politics, and that the two have no interdependence. The country's royal family destroyed that fiction when they had posters put up around their Sakhir circuit featuring the slogan "UniF1ed – One Nation in Celebration", an explicit use of Formula One to bolster their claim to have taken steps to improve conditions for their people since the first demonstrations in March 2011, part of the "Arab spring", caused the cancellation of last year's grand prix.

    Meanwhile The Economist accuses the government of making a hypocritical argument.

    The government is trying to have it both ways, insisting that Bahrain is safe enough to host an international sporting event while claiming it faces a terrorist threat backed by Shia Iran. The result is political inertia on both sides. Bahrain’s opposition parties have lost control of the street, caught out by the scale of the protests last year. As violence deepened, moderate voices struggled to be heard, and without a government offer of meaningful dialogue and reform, they had nothing to assuage more radical elements.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 12:52

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  • Body of killed activist still being held

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    12:37pm

    As well as being the Formula One Grand Prix, today was also expected to be the funeral of a Bahraini activist who died in clashes with security forces.

    On Saturday the body of activist Salah Abbas Habib was found after he had been hit with shotgun fire.

    Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told us Habib's family have expressed a desire to have the funeral today but the government has as yet refused to release the body.

    "We are supposed to have the funeral, which would be attended by tens of thousands."

    "I doubt they will give the body of the man. He was killed on Friday and his body has still not yet been given (back). Seems they are trying to cover up (their abuses)"

    Rajab said there protests planned across the country, with the majority taking place from 2pm onwards.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 12:37

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  • Pictures show ongoing violence

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    12:07pm

    Here are some pictures of violence in the country courtesy of the Reuters and AFP wires.
     

    Anti-government protesters flash victory signs as they burn tires in Budaiya, west of Manama, early 22 April, 2012. (Photo: Reuters – Hamad I Mohammed)

    Demonstrators run through a cloud of tear gas fired by police during a protest in the village of Diraz, west of Manama 21 April, 2012. (Photo: Reuters – Hamad I Mohammed)

    A Bahraini protester holds a molotov cocktail bomb next to a barricade on fire during clashes with riot police in a Shiite suburb of the capital Manama, on 20 April, 2012 following a demonstration to demand a halt to the Formula One Grand Prix event. (Photo: AFP – STR)

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 12:07

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  • State media: country "unified" ahead of race

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    11:58am

    Maybe Vettel has been getting his information from Bahrain's media.

    State media coverage of protests in the past year has been, at best, minimal and there appears to be little change today.

    The Gulf Daily News focuseson the FIA president Jean Todt saying only 10 percent of Bahrain's population is opposed to the race.

    Under the title "Unified for today's big race" it quotes Todt as saying "Do we have to penalise 80 or 90 per cent of the population because 10pc are against? My answer is no."

    The Bahrain News Agency, meanwhile, says the country is "Buzzing With Formula One Fever."


    "Formula 1 isn't just about cars and sports; it's a celebration packed with fun and entertainment for everyone. The biggest event of the year is not to be missed, with extreme rides, concerts, clowns, acrobats, a kids' zone and so much more."

    Indeed...

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 11:58

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  • Stuff that really matters

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    11:40am

    Some sports star's, like Cristiano Ronaldo, revel in being the pantomime villain and it appears reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel may have the same tendency.

    Inside the sealed bubble of the track area there has been little violence, and you could be forgiven for forgetting there was anything outside the world of racing – which appears to be what Vettel has done.

    According to the Reuters wire, Vettel took the opportunity of a press conference to give his considered opinion on the politics of Bahrain.

    He said he thought much of what was being reported was hype and added that he looked forward to getting in the car and dealing with the "stuff that really matters - tyre temperatures, cars".

    Not sure how well that will go down with the protesters on the streets calling for basic human rights, but those tyres sure are important.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 11:40

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  • Anonymous threaten Grand Prix fans

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    11:27am

    News just in of a statement from the online hacktivist campaigners Anonymous.

    They have been urging the government to cancel the event and have been waging cyber war in an attempt to force their hand. Earlier this week the main Formula One website went offline, apparently after an Anonymous attack.

    Their latest statement urges fans to ignore the race.

    To the fans of F1: While you have the right to enjoy your sport, and we do hope you enjoy it in it’s proper time and place, please do the right thing and join the people of Bahrain in solidarity by boycotting this event. Do not watch it on television, do not visit F1 websites. Show that you do not condone racing on the blood of the innocent. Turn your eyes away from this abominable race for this one weekend to send a clear message that the fans of F1 value the rights of people more than the sick negligence of humanity.

    Below is an older video from the group threatening to wage war on the Bahraini government if they do not introduce democratic reforms.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 11:27

  • Race due to start this afternoon

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    10:59am

    We may need some help from you guys with covering the race itself as the last time we watched Formula One Damon Hill was battling it out with Michael Schumacher for the crown. Though we have just been told that the German is still going, so maybe we haven't missed much.

    Anyway the race will get underway in a few hours, and Lewis Hamilton is on the front row alongside the world champion Sebastian Vettel, who is on pole.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 10:59

  • Racetrack immune to protests

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    10:33am

    One of the concerns of the opposition has been visibility, with the government forcing their protests into areas where they will not be seen by those attending the race.

    As this useful Google Maps still shows, all those traveling from the capital Manama (spelled Manamah here) in the north to the race track (Point A) face quite a hefty drive.

    (Photo: Google Maps)

    It is highly unlikely that the race itself will be disrupted as the race track itself is largely isolated and there are thousands of security forces guarding it.

    The real issue, therefore, is the roads between Manama and the race track which go through villages that have been at the center of protests in the past year.

    Activists in the past few days have tried to get to these roads – including Pearl Square, the base of opposition last year until it was crushed by GCC forces – to be visible to those traveling to the race track but have so far been beaten back.

    Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, admits it is still possible to go from Manama to the race without seeing a protest.

    "The race track is in the desert, not in the town, but on the highway that goes there people were planning to go but can't."

    "You can go down the highway without seeing any protests."

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 10:33

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  • Crackdown on opposition leader

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    10:20am

    Having mentioned crackdowns on opposition leaders in the past week, we are getting reports of further arrests in the past 24 hours.

    Leading opposition figure Ala'a Shehabi told us on Friday that at least 100 had been arrested but other activists are putting the figure higher.

    Mohammed Hassan, an activist who has helped us researching stories in the past, was among those arrested on Friday in a major clampdown.

    His friend Mohammed Sanad describes how he says the arrest came about.

    “He was at a protest and he got hit by a tear gas canister. He was in a lot of pain and couldn't move. He said he was OK but we couldn't get him away so the army came and grabbed him."

    Sanad added that he was concerned that there would be widescale violence across the country today.

    "It is the day of rage and I think there will be heavy clashes across the country."

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 10:20

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  • Welcome to <i>Al-Akhbar's</i> live blog

    Live blog: Bahrain Grand Prix and 'Day of Rage'

    10:06am

    Morning all and welcome to our coverage of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Here's a recap on what has happened in the build-up to today's race.

    •  Bahrain has been hit by a resurgence in pro-democracy protests in the past few months, with thousands regularly taking to the streets.
    • Formula One's top authority, the FIA, two weeks confirmed the race would take place despite the opposition urging them to cancel it.
    • In the past fortnight there has been increased tension, with activists reporting a crackdown by government forces in which leading opposition figures have been rounded up and arrested.
    • On Friday an activist died, apparently after being shot by security forces, and his funeral is due to take place today. However, as of late on Saturday night, the government had not yet released his body, with a leading human rights activist saying it was likely they would not do so until after the race.
    • Also among those to be detained is Zainab Al-Khawaja, a leading opposition figure whose father Abdulhadi is on the 72nd day of a hunger strike against his detention without trial. He has also stopped taking water, according to his family.
    • On the track qualifying has finished and the race is due to start in a few hours.

    Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 10:06

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