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Deadly protests mar Bahrain Grand Prix

Bahrain now has its first protester death of the F1 weekend. The man's body was found lying on a roof in the village of Shakhura, his face to the sky.
Last modified: 21 Apr 2012 15:20
Photo by Reuters

Bahrain now has its first protester death of the F1 weekend. The man's body was found lying on a roof in the village of Shakhura, his face to the sky.

Around his neck rested a respirator mask, the necessary protection for anyone choosing to do battle with Bahrain's security forces amidst the clouds of choking tear gas.

Al-Wafaq, Bahrain's main Shia political group, says he was called Salah, and he was 37 years old.

Shakhura is just a kilometre or so from the scene of Friday's large scale anti-government protests.

It's still unclear whether he died in the clashes that broke up that demonstration, or whether he was killed in the night of village skirmishes that followed.

There is an even more sinister rumour circulating: that he was snatched by police, died in their custody, and his body was dumped on the roof in the hours of darkness.

But regardless of how Salah died, the claim of many Shia protesters that Formula One is racing on their blood becomes harder to argue against.

Bahrain's crown prince took a tour of the F1 paddock on Friday, and insisted the event would go ahead.

According to Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa "political parties across the whole spectrum, both conservative and opposition, have welcomed the race." Cancelling it, he said, would only empower "extremists".

Almost anywhere you go in Bahrain this weekend, the official message looks down at you from billboards and hoardings: the word "Unified", with the F1 logo making up the "f" and the "i" of that slogan.

But other sights belie the branding.

Razor wire has been laid out around many of Manama's satellite Shia villages, scorch marks on the roads are evidence of nights of violent clashes, and armed police are everywhere.

Shia opposition to the ruling Sunni minority and the absence of democracy has been claiming lives for well over a year now.

Before the tear gas sent me and the demonstrators running at Friday's big rally, I spoke to Jumana.

The enthusiastic and obviously strong-willed 16-year-old girl appeared by my side and offered to be my guide.

We talked about why the men and women were in separate groups ("Hey I don't really agree with that, but that's our society" she said), and I asked her what it was she wanted. Her answer was given with a broad smile: "Freedom, Equality, and dignity. Nothing more."

Further protests from Bahrain's restive Shia population are planned this weekend, including one near the Sakhir race track on Sunday.

Violence will almost certainly accompany them. Bernie Ecclestone, F1's ruling king, has insisted from the get-go that Bahrain is a safe country to race in. 

If Salah could still speak, he would probably tell you it's not such a safe country to live in.