This week's Bahrain Grand Prix looks set to take place amid tightened security measures after protestors stepped up their opposition to the event across the weekend.
Advance parties from the F1 fraternity arriving in Manama are already reporting longer queues and more administration at immigration points, and the government has confirmed that it is ramping up measures in both the capital and other areas close to the Sakhir circuit following a wave of demonstrations and attacks.
A series of explosions, including a gas cylinder blast, rocked Manama's Financial Harbor district over the weekend. Whilst causing no reported injuries, the attacks have underlined the opposition to the grand prix, which is seen as a status symbol of a regime accused of increased oppression over the past few years.
According to the Gulf Daily News
, a radical opposition group calling itself the Coalition of February 14 Youth has claimed responsibility for the blast, and and warned that it intended to carry out 'similar operations' in coming days. The same report claimed the Financial Harbor blast took place close to a hotel where members of the Ferrari team will be staying this week. Three other explosions occurred in nearby villages at around the same time.
According to government spokeswoman Samir Rajab, Bahrain 'will ensure that appropriate security measures are taken during the F1 race', adding that 'the security situation in Bahrain is very reassuring'.
Anti-government marches, with the Shi'ite majority calling for the end of Sunni-led control of the country, continued near Manama's international airport over weekend and, while other demonstrations were not so fortunate, no clashes were reported between protestors and security forces. Further protests are planned this week, coinciding with F1's arrival for round four of the 2013 world championship, which begins on Friday.
Shi'ite sources claims that nearly 100 arrests have been made in recent days, with another 30 injured following clashes with police, as the security forces attempt to remove activists from the streets ahead of the grand prix weekend.
Despite the protests, Bahrain International Circuit continues to report a steady take-up of tickets to the event, as organisers ramp up efforts to attract a sizeable local crowd.
While sponsors have already signalled that they will not
be using the grand prix as a major element of their marketing campaign [ see separate story
], scared off by the association with violence and preferring to use Abu Dhabi's race as an alternative, BIC is pushing the additional entertainment it has lined up over the three days.
With just a few days left before the cars take to the track, BIC officials claim that ticket sales have accelerated to the point where take-up has exceeded the 2012 event, which took place amid reports of a heavy-handed crackdown on pockets of unrest.
Bernie Ecclestone has repeatedly claimed that he has no problems taking F1 back to the Gulf state [ see separate story
], which pays handsomely for the right to stage a round of the world championship.
Meanwhile, opposition to the event outside of Bahrain continues apace, with an all-party political group in the UK still calling for the 2013 race to be cancelled. MP Andy Slaughter and Lord Avebury will hold a press conference on Tuesday (16 April) to express their concerns about the grand prix going ahead. Under the banner 'F1: Driving Over the Rights of the Bahraini People', they will claims that, while Bahrain descends deeper into a political crisis, any remaining human rights are being trampled by F1 continued presence in the country, with Bahrainis being 'killed, tortured and detained' after protesting.