Bahrain steps up arrests ahead of F1 motor racing event

Opposition sees Grand Prix as opportunity to publicise pro-democracy campaign

McLaren driver Jenson Button speaks to the media on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in Manama. Photograph: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

McLaren driver Jenson Button speaks to the media on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in Manama. Photograph: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Thu, Apr 18, 2013, 17:13

Bahrain has arrested several people accused of stealing and burning cars amid heightened security in the island kingdom before Sunday’s Formula One race, which the opposition sees as a chance to publicise a pro-democracy campaign.

Watched by millions around the world, the Grand Prix is the biggest sporting event hosted by the US-allied country and the government is hoping for a healthy turnout this year despite continuing violent unrest.

The Gulf Arab state, where the US navy’s fifth fleet is based, has been hit by unrest since pro-democracy protests broke out in early 2011, putting it in the frontline of the region-wide tussle between Shia Muslim Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain’s state news agency said late on Wednesday that authorities had arrested a man who later confessed to an incident in which a car burned and exploded in the country’s financial district last Sunday.

Four other people accused of stealing and burning a car near a roundabout were also arrested and another person was detained over an accusation that he blocked a main road and caused damage to a car.

The race at the Sakhir desert circuit was cancelled in 2011 when protests were crushed and at least 35 people were killed. Activists put the death toll far higher. Last year’s race went ahead against a backdrop of riot police firing teargas at protesters throwing petrol bombs in Shia Muslim villages.

Bahrain’s main opposition bloc has called for peaceful demonstrations to be stepped up, saying the spotlight shone on the kingdom by the Grand Prix would help showcase its message of reform. – ( Reuters)