1. ITV Report

Bahrain protests ahead of Formula One race

Bahrain protests Photo: Reuters

Anti-government protests are continuing in Bahrain ahead of the Formula One race there.

Protesters threw firebombs and riot police fired tear gas in Bahrain, after Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone announced the F1 Grand Prix will be held there.

Clashes broke out after the funeral of activist Ahmed Ismail, who authorities say was killed last month during a protest.

The demonstrators are vowing to intensify their protests as race day approaches and are demanding more democratic rights and the release of at least 60 Shi'ite protest leaders jailed in recent days.

Anti-government protesters in Bahrain are planning "days of rage" directed at the Formula One Grand Prix. Security forces have already rounded up dozens of activists in a clampdown on the opposition.

A former leading Bahraini politician has said there are "fears we could see some casualties" during the race.

There is particular trepidation and safety concerns after members of the Force India team were caught up in a petrol bomb incident and police had to fire tear gas and bird shot to disperse anti-government protesters.

The incident involving Force India is the talk of the trackside. While they are aware that after Friday prayers tends to be the time when the worse violence flares, some are saying there is a mounting sense that perhaps they have been misled over the security situation here.

– A source told ITV News

Two members of the British-based Force team asked to go home after the scare.

The Bahrain race circuit said four members of the team travelling between the track and the capital, drove through "an isolated incident involving a handful of illegal protesters acting violently towards police. During this incident a Molotov cocktail landed in the vicinity of their vehicle."

Bahrain International Circuit Chairman Zayed Al Zayani has defended the Bahrain protests, saying there has been less damage than was caused during the London riots last summer.

Activists in Bahrain have criticised the decision by Formula One to go ahead with the Grand Prix.

Formula One's governing body, the FIA, released this statement defending its decision to go ahead with the F1 Bahrain GP:

The FIA must make rational decisions based on the information provided to us by the Bahraini authorities and by the Commercial Rights Holder...Based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula One World Championship event in Bahrain. Therefore, the FIA confirms that the 2012 Gulf Air F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain will go ahead as scheduled.

A spokesman for the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority Fahad al-Binali has said that Bahrain has “acknowledged its mistakes".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said that the Bahraini ruling family "took immediate action” in response to an independent report it commissioned into the crackdown on protests last year.

The report found that Bahraini authorities used "excessive forces" against protesters.

Mr al-Binali denied claims in a report by Amnesty International that human rights abuses are still going on.

Amnesty International says Bahraini authorities are "more concerned with rebuilding their image" than introducing human rights reforms. It claims recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry [BICI] in November have been "only partially and superficially" implemented.

Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said: "With the world's eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the grand prix, no one should be under any illusions that the country's human rights crisis is over.

The establishment of the BICI was a real breakthrough and raised expectations that things would be different in Bahrain. It is time for the Bahraini government to match its public pronouncements with genuine actions."

Khadija al Mousawi's husband was jailed for his role in leading early pro-democracy protests, and she has been on hunger strike for two months.

She says Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone's missed a chance to help the pro-democracy movement.

Carlos Latuff - a Brazilian cartoonist - has posted this cartoon of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

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