DUBAI - Bahraini police fired buckshot and tear gas to disperse overnight demonstrations in Shiite villages outside the capital Manama ahead of this weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix, witnesses said on Thursday.
The violent clashes followed calls by opposition group the February 14 Youth Movement on social networking sites for “three days of rage” to coincide with the kingdom’s controversial hosting of motor racing’s premier event.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the entrances to Shiite villages around Manama shouting anti-government slogans such as: “The people want the fall of the regime,” and “Down Hamad,” in reference to Bahrain’s king.
The security forces fired tear gas to disperse the protester, who responded by hurling petrol bombs, the witnesses said.
“The village of Sanabes (near Manama) saw the most violent clashes,” said one witness, Mohamed Jassem, adding that the police had fired buckshot cartridges, wounding a number of people.
The February 14 Youth Movement denounced the Formula One meeting in Bahrain, posting slogans on social networking sites such as “No to the Grand Prix of blood.”
Security has been beefed up in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom ahead of Sunday’s race, strongly opposed by the Shiite-led opposition and criticised by human rights groups.
Earlier this week, hundreds of protesters marched carrying banners calling for a boycott and a demonstration was held near Bahrain’s international airport as the teams began arriving, despite the arrest of about 80 leading democracy activists.
Bahrain’s largest opposition grouping, Al-Wefaq, has called for a week of daily demonstrations and sit-ins to last through to Sunday’s race.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled last year in the wake of the Shiite-led uprising and the brutal government crackdown that followed in which 35 people were killed, according to an independent commission of inquiry.
In mid-February 2011, thousands of Shiite-led pro-democracy activists, inspired by the revolutions of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia, poured onto the streets of Manama, demanding political reform and greater representation.