Bahrain rulers defiant in face of Grand Prix protests

Tear gas was fired at anti-government protesters in the village of Diraz, west of Manama
Tear gas was today fired at anti-government protesters in Diraz, west of Manama. Photo: REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

The organisers of this Sunday's Grand Prix in Bahrain have vowed that violent protests against the race will not stop it taking place.

Many Bahrainis are angry that the Formula One showpiece will allow their royal rulers to present an air of normality.

Today's street battles are the latest flashpoint in two years of uprising by Shia tribes against the Sunni royal family.

ITV News Correspondent Rageh Omaar reports.

Thousands of opposition supporters today protested against the race, which they see as a chance to attract international attention to their pro-democracy campaign.

The Gulf kingdom has arrested several people accused of stealing and burning cars and scaled up security ahead of the Grand Prix.

The protests were not expected to have any effect on qualifying taking place on Friday and Saturday at the Sakhir desert circuit.

Drivers including Ferrari's Fernando Alonso are set to race in Bahrain this weekend
Drivers including Ferrari's Fernando Alonso are set to race in Bahrain this weekend. Credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

A 44-year-old wholesale trader at a protest in Karzakkan, near the circuit, said the government was using the race to hide the need for political change:

This is marketing, an attempt to say there's no problems in the country. They use this as marketing for the outside world.

The race was cancelled in 2011 when protests were crushed and at least 35 people were killed.

Last year's race went ahead against a backdrop of burning tyres and riot police firing tear gas at protesters throwing petrol bombs in Shi'ite Muslim villages.