News / Middle East

    Thousands of Bahrainis March for Democracy Ahead of F1 Race

    Protesters hold banners as they shout anti-government slogans during a protest in Budaiya west of Manama, April 4, 2014.
    Protesters hold banners as they shout anti-government slogans during a protest in Budaiya west of Manama, April 4, 2014.
    Reuters
    Tens of thousands of mainly Shi'ite protesters marched for democratic reforms in Bahrain on Friday, two days before its annual Formula One motor race turns international attention toward the Sunni-led kingdom.
     
    The protest, organized by al-Wefaq Islamic Society, the main opposition group, drew an estimated 20,000 men and women who marched with national flags and posters in northwestern Bahrain demanding reforms and release of prisoners.
     
    The tiny Gulf Arab monarchy, a U.S. ally, has suffered sporadic unrest since an uprising led by its Shi'ite Muslim majority in early 2011 demanding reforms and a bigger share of power in the minority-led government.
     
    The turmoil forced the cancellation of that year's race, but the event went ahead despite continuing unrest in 2012 and 2013, with Germany's Sebastian Vettel winning both times. This year's race is due to take place on Sunday.
     
    “The people demand democracy and reject tyranny,” a poster read in Arabic and English. Police kept a distance from the march, which moved along 3.5 km (two miles) on a highway west of the capital Manama and ended peacefully.
     
    The Bahraini government sees the Formula One race as a major achievement for the country, raising its international profile, and attracting tourists and foreign investment.
     
    On Thursday, anti-government demonstrators throwing petrol bombs clashed with police who fired tear gas and birdshot following a funeral procession in the Shi'ite Muslim village of al-Eker, south of Manama.
     
    Criticism

    Many of Bahrain's Shi'ites dismiss the race as a distraction from the country's urgent political problems.
     
    “This week, people from all around the world are in Bahrain to attend the F1. I want to know what are we, as Bahrainis, benefiting from it,” said Mariam Jassim, a mother of three.
     
    “What is more important for the government, the well-being of its people or to entertain foreigners?” she added.
     
    School teacher Fadheel Mohammed agreed. “We want solutions to our problems. We want jobs, houses and better living conditions,” he said. “It's not too much to ask of the government to treat us with dignity and pride.”
     
    Many Shi'ites complain of discrimination, especially in employment and housing, a charge the government denies.
     
    However, in contrast to the Shi'ite-inhabited villages where the protests took place, there was little evidence of unrest in downtown Manama or around the F1 race at the Sakhir desert circuit, roughly 30 km (19 miles) southwest of Manama.
     
    The opposition hopes to use the race, which is watched by millions around the world, to put the spotlight on its pro-democracy campaign. The government has portrayed the protesters as trying to undermine Bahrain's international image.
     
    The Interior Ministry said it had beefed up security for the event. “The Ministry of Interior is sparing no effort to ensure the success of the 57-lap Grand Prix,” state news agency BNA quoted the Southern Police Director-General Brigadier-General Sheik Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Khalifa as saying.
     
    The kingdom, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, quelled the uprising in 2011 with help from forces from its Sunni Gulf Arab allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
     
    But occasional protests, mainly in Shi'ite villages, have continued and police have increasingly come under attack from home-made bombs in recent months. One of three blasts last month killed three policemen, including one from the UAE.
     
    Bahrain has accused Shi'ite power Iran across the Gulf of fomenting the unrest. Iran denies having links to Bahrain's opposition or any hand in the violence, but says it is supportive of Shi'ites there.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora