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Protests Flare Up In Bahrain Ahead Of Grand Prix

Security has been stepped up around the Bahrain capital Manama as protests flared up in nearby villages ahead of Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix race.

Shiite protesters clashed with police in villages near Manama as well as those near the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir late Friday and Saturday, reports said.

Police retaliated with teargas. Protesters plan to gain as much media attention as possible during the race. Some protest groups has called for "days of rage" to mark the race.

Formula One race organizers and the government have insisted that they will go ahead with the event. Practice and qualifying sessions are being held despite calls for canceling the race. Last year, the race was canceled following a month-long uprising and the government crackdown.

The Shiite Muslim community has been protesting against the Sunni government alleging lack of reforms, job opportunities and housing. The Gulf Kingdom, where the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is based, has seen clashes between the government and the Shia opposition since February last year.

The Sunni rulers responded with force, resulting in a violent crackdown in March that was supported by troops from some GCC countries. More than 20 were left dead following the crackdown.

The country is now awaiting the government's decision on whether to release the Shiite activist Adhulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike in prison for more than two months. He is among the 14 men in prison for leading protests against the government last year.

Khawaja, who is a Danish citizen, was sentenced to life last year for protesting against the government. It was reported on April 20 that he has stopped drinking water. The Bahrain Supreme Court rejected Denmark's request that he be released and taken to treatment there.

The government's decision is expected on April 23, a day after the Formula One race, reports said.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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