UBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain summoned Iran's charge d'affaires on Monday to protest against what it called interference in its internal affairs.

A government statement said Mahdi Islami was called in over Iran's "deliberately attributing false information to Bahraini officials and promoting it in the media" and "through ties and contacts with specific groups in the Bahraini community".

The government gave no further details.

It's statement appeared to refer to a meeting between the Iranian consul in Manama and Bahrain's leading Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Shaikh Isa Qassim.

Shi'ite Wefaq, the main opposition group, said the meeting came after Bahrain asked Iran to "contribute in finding a breakthrough to the political crisis in the country".

It was not immediately clear when the meeting took place.

The Gulf state has been in turmoil since pro-democracy protests led by its Shi'ite majority erupted last year.

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers brought in Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces to help quell the protests. Shi'ite power Iran condemned the move, saying it could lead to regional instability. Bahrain has accused Iran of being behind the unrest. Tehran denied this.

Bahrain's Shi'ites complain they have long been marginalized in political and economic life, a claim the government denies. Bahrain's Sunni rulers have rejected the protesters' main demand for an elected government.

Bahrain, a U.S. ally that hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, reinstated its ambassador to Iran in August, more than a year after withdrawing the envoy following Tehran's criticism of its crackdown on Shi'ite protesters.

Source: Yahoo News 
(CNN) -- A court in Bahrain has quashed the life sentence of a prominent activist who has been on a hunger strike, sending his case to the Supreme Court, along with 20 others, the country's official news agency reported Monday.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for more than two months, protesting his sentence.

His wife said Monday she was "very disappointed" by the ruling, predicting that nothing would change.

"This is not positive. Nothing will change. The government is just buying time," Khadija Almousawi said.

"It's very obvious this decision is not for the sake of the prisoners but for the sake of the government to show it is doing something positive. A retrial is cruel for them. It means they have to go through that agony again," she said.

Al-Khawaja's daughter, meanwhile, took to Twitter to say he should be set free.

"All prisoners of conscience should be released immediately without these unfair trials used as an excuse to prolong detention," Maryam al-Khawaja said.

The court ruling does not mean the 21 defendants will be set free, Bahrain's state news agency BNA reported.

Instead, they will get a new trial at the Supreme Court of Appeal "as if it was a trial for the first time," the agency said.

Earlier this month opposition groups in Bahrain and politicians around the world called for officials to cancel aFormula 1 motor race there as violent clashes continuedbetween activists and authorities.

The Bahrain Grand Prix continued as scheduled, but protesters used the international spotlight on the race to call for the release of al-Khawaja.

On Sunday, Bahrain's Information Ministry denied that it was force-feeding al-Khawaja, saying in a statement that the prisoner gave consent for doctors to insert a nasogastric tube for nutrition after his blood sugar dropped.

He was arrested last April for his role in anti-government demonstrations in his country as the Arab Spring swept across the region.

He and the 20 other opposition activists were found guilty in June 2011 of plotting to overthrow the strategically important country's Sunni royal family. Eight were given life sentences

Human Rights Watch on Sunday accused police in Bahrain of regularly resorting to beating anti-government protesters, despite officials' pledges to stop such practices.

Interviews revealed at least five instances in the past month in which police severely beat detainees -- some of whom were minors, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued after representatives from the group finished a five-day visit to the island nation.

A Bahraini government spokesman denied that allegation and others made by the group.

"The allegations are absurd, and unfortunately, we ask for human rights organizations not to rely on unreliable sources," said government spokesman Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa.

Demonstrations in Bahrain failed to gain the traction of other Arab Spring uprisings after a crackdown by authorities in the island state, backed by troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In November of last year, Bahrain's Independent Commission of Inquiry issued a report critical of authorities' reactions to the protests, which began in February 2011, spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The small island kingdom plays a key strategic role in the Middle East, and is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Source: CNN

A Canadian man, who says he was jailed and tortured in Bahrain for taking part in pro-democracy protests, has arrived in Montreal, his wife told Postmedia News late Tuesday evening.

“I have talked to two of Naser’s sisters [who] confirmed that Naser has arrived home. I didn’t talk to him yet. He is out now. I’m waiting for his call,” Zainab Ahmed said in an email.

Naser Al-Raas was freed in February after lobbying from the Canadian Consulate and various international rights agencies.

The Kuwaiti-born Canadian citizen says he was then stranded in the country after Bahraini authorities refused to return any of his ID or belongings and the company charged with delivering a new passport to him lost it.

He left Egypt on Sunday and flew out of Amsterdam early Tuesday morning.

Source: National Post 

GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office is welcoming Bahrain's move to re-examine cases against activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and 20 others convicted last year by a military-led tribunal. 

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says Bahraini authorities have now "recognized the importance of moving away from military justice for civilians."

Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday there is no reason for al-Khawaja to be held "incommunicado" — and the jailed Bahraini hunger striker should have immediate access to family, a doctor, a lawyer and the Danish ambassador.

Denmark wants custody of al-Khawaja, who holds Danish citizenship and began a hunger strike Feb. 8.

Colville says al-Khawaja should be transferred to a civilian hospital.

Source: ajc

Activists warn ruling for 21 jailed dissidents may be attempt to deflect international criticism.

A group of jailed Bahraini dissidents were who were handed lengthy prison sentences by a secretive military tribunal last year were given hope today that their convictions might be overturned after the country’s highest court ordered a civilian retrial.

But relatives and opposition politicians have greeted the gesture with caution telling The Independent that the troubled Gulf kingdom’s civilian courts have attracted widespread scepticism when it comes to guaranteeing fair trials during highly politicised cases.

Yesterday’s ruling refers to 21 opposition leaders who were convicted last year of organising mass protests led predominantly by Bahrain’s majority Shi’a population against the kingdom’s ruling Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty. Despite a widespread crackdown, mass arrests and the deaths of more than 50 people, the protests show little sign of abating.

The group of jailed activists include some of the county’s most prominent dissidents such as the imprisoned hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Hassan Mushaima, one of the founding father’s of Bahrain’s Shi’a opposition. In recent weeks al-Khawaja has become a beacon for the opposition movement after he began refusing all food until he and his fellow prisoners were released unconditionally.

He has been moved to an undisclosed location and his family have claimed that the Bahraini authorities are feeding him intravenously against his will. Bahrain’s government, which has come under enormous international pressure as a result of the hunger strike, has denied the allegations.

This morning the country’s Cassation Court ruled that the group should be retried on a civilian chamber, overturning their previous conviction in a closed-doors military tribunal. However the court insisted that the group must remain in detention until a new trial date can be set.

Mattar Ebrahim, a member of the Shi’a opposition party al-Wefaq and a former MP, told the Independent that he had little faith in the civilian judiciary.

“They are simply replacing one unfair judicial system with another,” he said. “This is not just my view, this is the finding of numerous independent NGOs and human rights organisations who have looked at the civilian courts.”

Earlier this year Human Rights Watched published a report investigating Bahrain’s judiciary in which it concluded that "civilian criminal courts have shown themselves to be little better than the military courts in providing fair trials in highly politicized cases.”

Mr Ebrahim added: “You have to remember that even before the protests last year the civilian court system was the major court used by the regime to stop dissent. It has always been used to attack opposition groups by fabricating criminal charges against people. The regime always says it doesn’t have political prisoners in Bahrain and in some ways that is true – because they always charge political people with made up criminal offences.”

Al-Khawaja’s daughter Maryam said she believed the civilian retrial was simply an attempt to deflect recent international criticism.

“They want to diffuse the external pressure,” the told The Independent by telephone from Lebanon. “They will try to drag the case on for as long as possible – citing due process – in the hope that they will be forgotten about. The same thing has happened with the Bahraini doctors.”

Miss al-Khawaja was referring to fifteen Shi’a doctors who were sentenced last year by a military court to between five and 15 years in jail for a string of criminal charges that were widely deemed to be political. After widespread international condemnation a civilian retrial was later reordered and has been slowly working its way through the judicial system over the past three months.

Of the 21 jailed opposition politicians, eight members including al-Khawaja and Hassan Mushaima, were sentenced to life in prison. Al-Khawaja’s other daughter Zainab has also been held in detention for the past week after she was arrested following a peaceful protest against the recent Formula One race.

The main charges used to convict her father and his fellow dissidents last year was “forming a terrorist group with intent to overturn the system of government”. Many were also charged with working on behalf of a foreign state, a reference to Bahrain’s Shi’a neighbour Iran.

The Bahrain government, which is dominated by Sunnis, has previously accused Tehran of trying to foment trouble in its island neighbour but opposition groups in the kingdom insist that they are entirely independent.

Source: The Independent 
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Political activist to be tried in civilian rather than military court as Bahrain appears to respond to international pressure. 

 has announced a retrial for a hunger-striking political activist and 20 other people accused of trying to overthrow the western-backed monarchy in the Gulf state's Arab spring protests last year.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is to be tried in a civilian court – rather than a military court as before – suggesting an attempt by the Bahraini government to respond to domestic and international criticism of its policies by finding a face-saving solution.

Khawaja, 52, was sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting against the state last summer. But a three-month hunger strike and an energetic campaign by family and supporters have kept his case in the spotlight. It was raised too in the runup to the recent controversial Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain. Khawaja is currently in a military hospital in a serious condition, having lost 25% of his body weight. The Bahrain defence forces denied in a statement on Sunday that he was being force-fed.

The decision to give him a retrial is a partial victory for Khawaja, but his family said immediately that it did not go far enough as he is to remain in custody. "Abdulhadi al-Khawaja did not go on hunger strike saying death or retrial, he said death or freedom," his daughter Maryam wrote on Twitter. "A retrial doesn't mean much."

Khawaja's wife, Khadija al-Moussawi, told the BBC: "I think it is ridiculous. What sort of legal process is this? They are playing for time, and should have transferred his case to a civilian court at the first hearing, not the third."

The Bahrain Human Rights Society noted that the retrial would still be based on interrogations carried out by military prosecutors.

The retrial decision is line with the so far largely ignored recommendations of the Bahrain independent commission of investigation (BICI) appointed by King Hamad Al Khalifa, which found that Khawaja had suffered prolonged torture while in detention.

Khawaja has dual nationality with Denmark, and the Danish ambassador criticised the decision to keep him in custody and renewed his call for Khawaja to be transferred to Denmark on humanitarian grounds.

Bahrain's government, meanwhile, has been accused of urging supporters to vote in an online opinion poll on the Radio Times websiteto ensure that a highly critical film about repression during last year's protests does not win the current affairs prize at this year's Bafta Television Awards.

On Saturday, the Bahraini foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, tweeted to his nearly 80,000 followers urging loyalists to vote against the al-Jazeera documentary Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark. The film has already won numerous awards for al-Jazeera.

Human Rights Watch said in a new report at the weekend that Bahraini police were beating and torturing detainees, including minors, despite the recommendations of the BICI and public commitments to end torture and police impunity.

"Bahrain has displaced the problem of torture and police brutality from inside police stations to the point of arrest and transfer to police stations," said Nadim Houry, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "This abuse contradicts one of the most important recommendations of the independent commission and shows why investigations and prosecutions of abusers to the highest level are essential to stopping these practices."

Source: The guardian 

Bahrain security forces shot dead an anti-government demonstrator, Salah Abbas Habib Musa, after angry clashes with the police on Friday night.

Rallies and demonstrations, labelled “three days of rage”, had been called across the island country to protest against the government coinciding with the Formula One Grand Prix held over the weekend.

King Hamad backed the race—his son, the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, owns the commercial rights to the event—as a means of boosting the country’s flagging economy in the wake of last year’s anti-government protests, which led to the cancellation of the F1 event in 2011.

According to the Shi’ite opposition party, al-Wefaq, clashes broke out following a massive protest march in the capital Manama against the ruling Khalifa family. Tens of thousands of demonstrators chanted, “We demand democracy” and “Down, Down Hamad”—a reference to King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and the ruling clique around him—as they massed on the main road out of Manama.

Police responded with teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. In the neighbouring Shi’ite villages they beat up a number of protesters and arrested five people. Musa’s badly beaten body was found on a rooftop in the village of Shakhura.

According to the New York Times, Musa’s wife, Mariam Isa Ali Jawad, said that her husband had been attending the daily protests and was one of the leaders in the Shakoura area. She rejected the government’s claims that his group was violent, saying that her husband was opposed to the use of violence. He had had spent five years in prison for his opposition to the government.

Activists say his death takes the total killed to 81, including police killed last year, since the uprising began on February 14, 2011,

The next day, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest Musa’s death and to demand democracy and an end to the crackdown on dissent. The government deployed armoured vehicles, security forces in riot gear and armed with pump-action shotguns, and dogs on Manama’s streets and the main road leading to the racetrack to prevent the demonstrators reaching the Grand Prix.

Some protesters wearing masks hurled petrol bombs at police who fired teagas back, turning the streets into scenes that Reuters described as “a battle zone”.

The last couple of months have seen on-going demonstrations, numerous arrests and detentions, including that of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a Shi’ite political activist now close to death after a more than a two-month-long hunger strike in protest against a life sentence handed down by a military tribunal last June. His daughter, Zainab al-Khawaja, was among those arrested at the weekend although she was released several hours later.

Al-Wefaq says that in the last week alone more than 100 protest organizers have been arrested in night raids and more than 70 wounded in clashes in which police have fired birdshot directly and live rounds into the air.

The US-based Physicians for Human Rights said that the government has used teargas on a near daily basis, including in crowded urban areas and homes, which could have long-term health consequences including increased rates of miscarriages and birth defects.

Publicly, Victoria Nuland, the US State Department spokesperson, mouthed platitudes such as, “We’re calling for, again, Bahraini government respect for universal human rights and demonstrators’ restraint in ensuring that they are peaceful”.

But as commentators have noted, Washington and London’s criticisms have been muted. Behind the scenes, the Obama administration has given its full backing for the crushing of the mass protests. Backing Bahrain’s hosting of the F1 Grand Prix was itself a mark of approval for the ruling family.

The venal Khalifa clique was only able to survive last year’s demonstrations, which were bigger relative to the country’s 1.2 million population than Syria’s, thanks to 1,500 armed troops from Washington’s chief ally in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration provided crucial diplomatic and political cover, as Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and provides a key base for operations against Iran and control of the Persian Gulf, including the Straits of Hormuz.

Bahrain, like the rest of the Gulf monarchies, is utterly subservient to US imperialism. These regimes are not prepared to cede even the most basic democratic rights, let alone an ounce of political power, to their oppressed peoples, particularly the Shi’a who predominate in the vital oil producing regions. In Bahrain, they constitute 70 percent of the population and face government-sanctioned discrimination in their search for jobs and housing.

Opposition parties that do exist, such as the Shi’a Islamist Al-Wefaq, lack widespread support amongst Bahrain’s angry youth and impoverished workers. The Economist was not alone in commenting that “Bahrain’s main opposition parties have lost control of the street [meaning the working class], caught out by the scale of the protests last year.”

Dependent on a very narrow social basis and bereft of political alternatives, the Gulf despots’ only option is brute force allied with the classic ploy, perfected by the British, the former colonial power, of divide and rule. To this end, they have sought to whip up sectarian divisions and strife, and prevent the oppressed masses from making common cause with the millions of migrant workers from Asia who suffer even harsher treatment at the hands of their venal employers.

At the same time they have claimed, without evidence, that Iran has fomented dissent.

Washington’s support for Bahrain is bound up with US vital geo-strategic interests, the region’s oil and gas resources and its ongoing efforts to establish its unchallenged global hegemony. The Gulf monarchies are the crucial Sunni axis against Shi’ite Iran and its allies: Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite parties, which Washington views as a regional threat.

Earlier this month, at least 100 American and 100 Arab Gulf fighter-bombers from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain took part in the biggest air force exercise ever conducted in the Gulf. According to the Israeli military intelligence web site DEBKAfile, the purpose was to simulate war with Iran and the reopening of the strategic Straits of Hormuz if it were closed by Tehran. The US warplanes took off from the USS Enterprise and USS Abraham Lincoln, which are cruising opposite Iranian shores. The Gulf countries used the US base in Bahrain as its centre of operations.

In the last few days, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the island of Abu Musa, arousing the anger of the UAE, which lays claim to the island, and the Gulf States. The Gulf Cooperation Council called his visit “a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the United Arab Emirates”.

Bahrain has thus become of the centre of a much wider political struggle in the Middle East, one currently being played out in Syria, which threatens to develop into a vicious sectarian conflict throughout the region.

Source: World Socialist Web Site 
Manama, Bahrain. Formula One teams, once they recover from a Bahrain Grand Prix stop against a backdrop of nightly clashes between police and protesters, have many questions to address in the weeks ahead. 

The whole world saw television images of demonstrators hurling petrol bombs in protests in and around Bahrain’s capital, Manama, while riot police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot. 

Last year’s race had to be cancelled as the result of a bloody crackdown on an antigovernment uprising and Sunday’s race faced down many calls for it to endure the same fate. 

“We were committed to this race and after the race we will make a proper judgement of what happened and come to a conclusion,” said Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn. 

There may be an inquest of sorts but even if teams were reluctant to come to Bahrain before Sunday’s race, there is unlikely to be a weakening of the sport’s ties with the region’s rulers. 

The race contributes about $40 million a year to Formula One’s coffers. 

If anything, the ties will only bind tighter with Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone saying he was committed to Bahrain “for as long as they want us” and asserting that all publicity was good publicity. 

The cash-guzzling sport has always followed the money and it has found investors and partners in oil and gas-rich countries eager to diversify into tourism and technology as well as indulge a passion for fast cars. 

“In terms of cash flow, it’s by far the biggest concentrating spot in the world. If you were to map it out that way, you wouldn’t have enough races here,” said Lotus team owner Gerard Lopez. 

Lopez’s Genii Business Exchange has enlisted retired triple champion Jackie Stewart, who has strong contacts with the Bahrain royal family, as a partner to build new links with automotive and manufacturing companies. 

Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to host a grand prix, back in 2004, and owns 50 percent of the McLaren Group. 

Abu Dhabi joined the calendar in 2009 at a Yas Marina circuit that is lavish even by Formula One standards. 

That round has become a key fixture for business-to-business deals and one that corporate chiefs and sponsors will always have space for. 

Abu Dhabi is also the largest investor in Mercedes’ parent Daimler AG through the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments, and the region is a significant market for the German carmaker. 

Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s sister team, has three sponsors owned by Abu Dhabi government fund International Petroleum Investment Company — Spanish oil company CEPSA, Swiss-based Falcon Private Bank and Canada’s Nova Chemicals. 

Williams, whose cars in the 1970s and ’80s were sponsored by Saudi Airlines and the Bin Laden family’s Albilad, have an agreement with the Qatar science and technology park for research and development. 

“We see more interest in Middle Eastern countries to host big sporting events, we have Abu Dhabi and Bahrain on the calendar and I’m sure in the future there will be more,” said Williams’ Brazilian driver Bruno Senna. “This is exciting because it creates the motor racing culture ... I think we are getting a bigger fan base in the Middle East which is good for motor racing.”  

Source: Jakarta Globe 

The journalists were arrested while covering the Grand Prix. 

Three journalists from Channel 4 News, their driver and a human rights activist were arrested and deported from Bahrain on Sunday. 

The journalists, including foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller, a cameraman, and producer, were filming a demonstration when they were arrested and detained for six hours before being sent home. The driver, named Ali, and human rights campaigner Dr Ala'a Shehabi were released later but were not deported.

Channel 4 News was not accredited by Bahrain with permission to enter the country for the Grand Prix and demonstrations. Bahraini authorities had only given permission to news organisations which officially covered Formula One. 

Miller said:

So when we were caught filming a planned demonstration in one of the Shia villages, they [the police] have not been particularly pleasant. They've been very aggressive towards me, my crew and driver and Dr Ala'a Shehabi, a prominent human rights activist.

We were actually heading back to where we were staying to edit the piece we'd compiled for tonight – we'd met villagers in a Shia suburb off the main city, who were demonstrating night after night. A Channel 4 News spokeswoman said: "We are pleased to confirm that our team is safe and on their way back to the UK. We also have confirmation that the team's driver – who they saw assaulted by Bahraini authorities – and human rights activist Dr Ala'a Shehabi have also been released." Miller said that the Bahraini authorities had refused to return the crew's cameras and computers.

Source: Newstatesman

 Bahrain's opposition reported the first death in protests timed for Sunday's controversial Grand Prix as a security lockdown was imposed around the Sakhir Formula One circuit and the king said he is committed to reform.

The body of Salah Abbas Habib, 36, was found in Shakhura village, where security forces had "attacked peaceful protesters, brutally beating some of them with various tools and weapons," said Al-Wefaq, the Gulf state's largest Shiite opposition bloc.

It charged that "security forces killed him one day before the final round of the F1 races hosted by Bahrain," without saying how he died.

King Hamad said on Sunday that he was committed to reform, after protests rocked villages in the Shiite-majority kingdom ruled by a Sunni dynasty.

In a statement issued a day after Habib's body was found in the Shiite village in a case the authorities are treating as murder, the monarch said the door was open for talks.

"I also want to make clear my personal commitment to reform and reconciliation in our great country. The door is always open for sincere dialogue amongst all our people," King Hamad said.

"Last month I received the report on progress made on the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. It confirmed that broad and substantial progress on reform has already been made by the government.

"We must of course continue the pace of reform."

The interior ministry confirmed that "the body of a deceased person was found in Shakhura" with "a wound to his left side" and the case was being considered as murder.

"The government condemns all acts of violence and will ensure the perpetrators of this crime, whoever they may be, will be brought to justice," the ministry quoted Public Security Chief Major General Tariq al-Hassan as saying.

One of Saleh's relatives told AFP that Habib "was taking part in the protest in Shakhura on Friday and was arrested by security forces while other protesters managed to flee."

The relative said there had been no word of him "until we were told that his body was found on Saturday morning."

Witnesses told AFP that security forces fired tear gas and sound bombs to disperse dozens of people who gathered where Habib's body was found.

Thousands of people demonstrated in the Shiite village of Darraz 10 kilometres (six miles) north of Sakhir and chanted slogans including "No concessions!" before dispersing peacefully, an activist said.

A planned march towards the circuit did not go ahead because of a heavy security presence.

Dozens of armoured vehicles were deployed on roads leading to Sakhir, where security gates were set up and bags were thoroughly searched at entrances.

Officials insisted the event was safe, although the Force India team withdrew from Friday afternoon practice on safety grounds two days after four of its mechanics were caught up in traffic near an exploding petrol bomb.

"I think cancelling just empowers extremists," Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said on Friday.

"I think for those of us who are trying to navigate a way out of this political problem having the race allows us to build bridges across communities," he told media at Sakhir.

Jean Todt, president of F1's governing body the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) said he did not believe the sport's image would suffer because of criticism over the event.

Todt told reporters at Sakhir that he felt F1 had made the right decision.

"The sport has to be healing any kind of problem in the world," he said. "We are not a political body, we are a sporting body. I already hope it will be a great outcome to hold the Grand Prix."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he spoke by telephone to his Bahraini counterpart "to call for restraint in dealing with protests including during the Formula One race and to urge further progress in implementing political reforms."

Shiite-led protests have intensified in Bahrain, site of a month-long uprising that was crushed last year, since the ruling Sunni dynasty insisted on going ahead with the Grand Prix.

The February 14 Youth Movement called on social networking sites for "three days of rage" coinciding with the race.

The head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, Mohammed Maskati, has said the protests were "a message to those taking part in the F1 race to bring their attention to human rights violations in Bahrain."

Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) in a statement deplored what it called "the breaches of press freedom by the Bahraini authorities" ahead of the Grand Prix.

It said King Hamad had "given assurances that Bahrain is an open society but the organisation has recorded numerous breaches of freedom of information since the start of the year."

RSF said last year it ranked Manama "among the 10 most dangerous places for journalists," and said so far it has seen "no significant improvement."

Source: France 24





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