Clashes between security forces and protesters left several people wounded across Bahrain’s Shiite villages ahead of its controversial Formula One (F1) Grand Prix as authorities beefed up security for the first practice sessions yesterday.
“Eighteen people were wounded” when security forces fired buckshot and tear gas to disperse overnight protests in Shiite villages, Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights president Mohammed Maskati said.
Witnesses said the clashes in villages located far from the Sakhir circuit, where practice sessions started at 7am GMT for tomorrow’s Formula One race, continued into the early morning.
Met by tear gas, sound bombs and buckshot, the protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at security forces, witnesses said.
The protests were “a message to those taking part in the F1 race to bring their attention to human rights violations in Bahrain,” Muscati said, adding that “95 people have been arrested since April 14.”
The protesters burned tires, briefly blocking several main roads leading to the Sakhir circuit, witnesses said.
A Molotov cocktail exploded late on Wednesday near Force India team members during clashes between protesters and security forces. The incident prompted one team member, not involved in the incident, and a contractor hired by the team, to return home despite reassurances by officials that Bahrain was safe.
Speaking to reporters at the Sakhir circuit, Formula One Grand Prix Drivers’ Association chairman Pedro de la Rosa said on Thursday that safety was “not a concern.”
Caught up in a clash between protesters and police on the motorway from Manama to Sakhir, four members of the Force India team were stuck in traffic when a fire bomb exploded as they returned from the circuit to their hotel late on Wednesday.
Nobody was injured.
The Feb. 14 Youth Movement has called on social networking sites for “three days of rage” to coincide with the event.
Bahrain’s main opposition group, Al-Wefaq, called for a week of daily protests during the Grand Prix, to focus media attention on their longstanding demands for greater equality in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
Earlier this week, hundreds of protesters carrying banners held a demonstration near Bahrain’s international airport as the race teams flew in.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was canceled last year in the wake of a Shiite-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy and government crackdown that followed in which a government commission said 35 people were killed.