Bahrain’s youth opposition movement has issued a warning to Formula 1 organisers, sponsors and spectators, ahead of the island’s controversial grand prix planned for April 20-22.
The February 14th Youth Coalition, an online organising body for anti-regime protests, said it would not be able to “ensure the safety” of Formula 1 participants amid popular anger that would be triggered by the race going ahead.
While renouncing violence, the statement said the organisers would be regarded as part of the
ruling family’s “bloody regime, responsible for shedding the blood of the sons of Bahrain”.
Keen to present an image of business as usual, the government has pressed on with the island’s biggest tourist attraction, which was cancelled last year as unrest swept across this strategically important US ally.
“We anticipate Formula 1 will continue and hope it will be a success,” said Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a government spokesman.
While Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has said the race should go ahead, opposition is growing amid daily clashes between the security forces and young opponents of the regime.
Pro-democracy protests that broke out in February last year were crushed when Saudi troops marched in a month later to back a government crackdown. The regime blamed the unrest on Iranian interference.
An independent commission slammed the security forces for excessive use of force and systematic torture. The minority Sunni-led government says it is reforming but the opposition, led by the majority Shia, says change is too slow.
As the death toll rises to more than 60, Richard Burden, a UK member of parliament, has backed calls from former F1 driver Damon Hill for the decision to hold the grand prix to be reviewed.
“In a context where genuine and sustainable reform is taking place, holding a grand prix could be a unifying event for the people of Bahrain,” Mr Burden wrote on a blog. “But things are not at that stage.”
Protests, mostly confined to clashes in Shia villages surrounding the capital, have been turning increasingly violent. At the weekend, youths set a bus on fire, describing it as a “warning” to the ruling family.
Ala’a Shehabi, an opposition activist, says increasingly radicalised young protesters aim to use the race to refocus the world’s attention on the Arab spring’s “forgotten uprising”.
Pressure is also mounting on the government to release jailed opposition leader and human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is in his second month of a hunger strike.
The judiciary yesterday rejected a Danish request for Mr Khawaja, a dual Bahraini-Danish national, to be transferred there for medical treatment. Sheikh Abdulaziz said Mr Khawaja remained in a stable condition at a military hospital, where he was being cared for by an “independent” medical team, including a Danish doctor.