A Bahraini protester writes graffiti against the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix in Jid Ali village, April 17, 2013.
A Bahraini masked protester writes graffiti against the upcoming Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix in the village of Jid Ali, on April 17, 2013. Police clashed early Thursday with Shiite protesters staging demonstrations against the motoring event being held this weekend in the Gulf kingdom. © Mohammed al-Shaikh - AFP
A Bahraini protester writes graffiti against the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix in Jid Ali village, April 17, 2013.
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AFP
Last updated: April 18, 2013

Bahraini police clash with F1 protesters

Bahrain International Circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani on Thursday said that this weekend's Grand Prix will take place in safety, despite fresh protests that have greeted Formula One's arrival in the Gulf kingdom.

"I personally think it's safe to do the race, there is no problem," he told reporters at the Manama circuit.

"We have five per cent who don't like it but the majority do -- and we cater for the majority," he added, saying that no specific threat had been received.

Alzayani said he hoped to fill the grandstands and to have a crowd of more than 25,000 on Sunday and claimed that an overhwhelming majority of the population supported the race.

Bahrain riot police on Thursday fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters who hurled petrol bombs during protests against the staging of the race.

There has been an increase in demonstrations by radical groups in the run-up to the Grand Prix, as part of a long-running campaign by Bahrain's Shiite Muslim population for greater political freedoms.

Alzayini, though, claimed that the protesters -- some of whom have dubbed the staging of the race a "crime" because of allegations of human rights abuses by the country's Sunni rulers -- were in the wrong.

"No matter what cause you have, you have no right to disrupt the normal process of life. That is not democracy. That is terrorism," he added.

Similar protests were held last year, raising the same fears and questions about the presence of the world's top drivers and teams in the country.

But Alzayani said security would be the same as 12 months ago.

Some 85 percent of people expected at Sunday's race will come from Bahrain itself, Alzayani said, with eight percent from neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

There was little evidence of the unrest in and around the race track on Thursday, as F1 teams completed final preparations for the race.

The mood was almost drowsy in a paddock bathed in sunshine as temperatures hovered above 35 degrees Celsius (95C Fahrenheit), an AFP reporter at the circuit said.

"Have you seen anything? Heard anything?" asked one team member, who preferred to remain unnamed. "If there is any civil unrest, or any protesting, it is not here is it? Or in the city..."

Thursday's demonstrations saw protesters take to the streets in Shiite villages, where graffiti such as "No F1. Don't race on our blood" have been daubed on walls.

Alzayani said he and organisers were focussed on ensuring that the race passed off without incident.

"Our job is to make sure the event passes smoothly," he added. "We do our part and whatever happens outside the track, somebody else is responsible for."

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