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Protests Intensify in Bahrain Ahead of Grand Prix

Riot police fire tear gas to prevent Bahraini anti-government protesters from marching toward the hub of last spring's pro-democracy uprising at the end of a mass rally just outside Manama, April 20, 2012.
Riot police fire tear gas to prevent Bahraini anti-government protesters from marching toward the hub of last spring's pro-democracy uprising at the end of a mass rally just outside Manama, April 20, 2012.

Security forces in Bahrain's capital, Manama, have confronted protesters as tensions continue to rise ahead of Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix.

Demonstrators on the outskirts of the city lobbed homemade explosives at the police, who retaliated with tear gas.

Anti-government demonstrators called for protests in the days leading up to the race, and on Friday they turned violent as the demonstrators called for an elected government and equal rights.

On Saturday, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said he wanted "to make clear my personal commitment to reform and reconciliation."

But the Shi'ite-led protests have intensified since the Sunni rulers of the Shi'ite-majority nation insisted on going ahead with the Grand Prix.

Bahrain Unrest Map

Reuters

Protesters blame security forces for the death of a man whose body was found Saturday on a rooftop on the outskirts of Manama.   Bahrain's interior ministry said it is investigating the death.   The main opposition group al-Wefaq identified the victim as Salah Abbas Habib. The ministry said the man appears to have died under "suspicious circumstances."

His funeral could be held on Sunday if his family recovers his body, setting the stage for riots on race day.

Anti-government groups led by the country's Shi'ite majority have called for "days of rage," coinciding with the three days of race action at the circuit in Sakhir, south of the capital Manama.  

Last year's Bahrain Grand Prix was postponed and later canceled because of demonstrations.

Bahrain's crown prince Salman bin Hamad bin al-Khalifa said on Friday rejected calls to cancel this year's race, saying that that would only empower "extremists."

The ruling family is eager to host this year's Grand Prix as way to illustrate stability in the strategic kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Some Bahrainis talking to Western media Friday said they were growing weary of the protests, questioning if they could make any difference. Businessman Razan Abdulaal was one of them. "I believe a protest is inherent right, we all have the right to protest right, but I don't know if you are referring to protesters or rioters because there is a very big difference," he said.

Abdullah al-Zayed also supported the demonstrators right to protest but said the protests themselves might be doing more harm than good. "I will not bring the country to a standstill and promote my demands in these three days, go out in tens of thousands and shutdown Manama's market because there are tourists coming. Why? Go on and close down Manama's market but it doesn't have to be during these three days," he said.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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