Bahraini opposition backs holding Formula One race

Manama: Bahrain`s main opposition said on Friday it supported the Gulf Arab state hosting a Formula One Grand Prix despite a government crackdown and the jailing of protesters, including some who worked at the race track.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has said the sport`s governing body should weigh a heavy crackdown on opposition activists during 11 weeks of martial law when it decides in Barcelona later in the day whether to hold the prestigious race.

Bahrain`s Sunni royal family imposed military rule for three months and brought in Saudi and United Arab Emirates troops in mid-March to help quell protests mostly by majority Shi`ites.

The government says the end of emergency law this week is a sign that things have gone back to normal in the island state, on the frontline of the cold war between Shi`ite power Iran and Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab dynasties allied with the United States.

The main opposition group Wefaq said bringing back Formula One would help the country politically and economically.

"We at Wefaq support hosting the event. It will force all the stakeholders to come together to find solutions ahead of the event. It would bring indirect pressure on all parties; people could be released from jail in advance," said Jasim Husain, a senior figure at the Shi`ite group.

Bahraini activists say the emergency law was ended two weeks early in order to win back the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Police patrolled Manama and villages near the capital to snuff out any protests before the meeting of the world motor racing body and fired tear gas to try to break up a protest by some 500 people shouting "Down with (King) Hamad" and "Gulf forces out" in the village of Sanabis on Friday.

The protest began after the funeral of Zainab Ali Altajer, who demonstrators said died from the effect of a sound bomb during disturbances the day before.

Military trials of 21 mostly Shi`ite dissidents continue. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has offered new dialogue on reform with all sides, without spelling out its parameters.

The court sentenced six men on Thursday to jail terms ranging from one to five years in prison for rioting and gathering illegally in public with intent to cause disturbance -- a reference to the protests -- the state news agency said.

An employee of the state-owned Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) which hosts the Grand Prix told Reuters 28 of 108 staff members had been fired. He said all 28 were detained and abused, and five remain in detention, including chief financial officer Jaafar Almansoor.

He said all the detainees were Shi`ite and many had taken part in or expressed support for the protest movement. The government has purged hundreds of Shi`ites from state jobs. It is not clear how many were arrested in total or remain in jail.

A BIC spokesman did not reply to telephone calls.

Britain lifted a travel advisory this week but expressed concern over rights abuse.

"We remain deeply concerned by reports of human rights abuses, including the recent arrests of protesters and medical staff and the nature of the charges brought against them," Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said on Wednesday.

Bureau Report

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