/ Agencies) - The government of Bahrain has stepped up security measures ahead
of the Formula 1 Grand Prix on 22 April. Today
the practice runs should start, but the FIA (International Automobile
Federation) has not yet given the go ahead. Since
yesterday, the police and military have been blocking people in villages to
prevent them from joining recent protests in and arrested 95 demonstrators. In the
capital all public gatherings have been banned. The
authorities have also denied entry visas to foreign journalists and
cameraman who had already arrived in the kingdom were obliged to put a fluorescent
sticker on their cameras that makes them recognizable from a distance and will
be kept under close surveillance. This
is to prevent any protests being filmed near the circuit.
The Shiite opposition leaders have announced protests for the next three days and want to use the car race to attract world attention on human rights violations carried out by the Sunni regime. They demand the release of 14 activists arrested during the protests of 2011, and the killing of over 70 people in a year of demonstrations. .
As a precaution the FIA has asked drivers to stay in hotels. Yesterday, a Molotov cocktail was was thrown at a car carrying some of the Force India mechanical team, who were blocked by a demonstration in central Manama. The pilots, however, minimize the episode and say they want to focus on the race. Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion, said: "I have not seen anyone throw bombs. I do not think that the climate is as described in the media. I think we are just raising a hornet's nest."
Bahrain is a Shia majority country, but ruled by a Sunni royal family an ally of Saudi Arabia. For over a year the population is demanding constitutional reforms and the removal of the prime minister, Sheik Khalifah bin Salman al-Khalifah, in power since 1971. In March 2011, the Shiite opposition organized a popular uprising in the wake of the "Arab spring". To quell the demonstrations, the government asked ally Saudi Arabia for help, which intervened by sending special forces authorized to fire on demonstrators. 24 people died in the clashes, including 4 policemen. The tensions had forced the FIA to cancel the race, which brings from 400 to 500 million U.S. dollars into the state coffers.