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'Protester killed' during Bahrain clashes

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Protesters have clashed with riot police in several villages across BahrainAl-Wefaq, Bahrain's main opposition bloc, has said that a Bahraini man has been found dead after clashes with riot police in the village of Shakhoura, a day before the Gulf state stages its Formula One Grand Prix.

Al-Wefaq named the dead demonstrator on Saturday as Salah Abbas Habib, 37, and said his body was found on the roof of a building.

It said Habib was part of a group who were beaten by police during clashes late on Friday night.

Mohammed Eissa, Habib’s brother in law, told Reuters that police were not allowing the family to see the body when they went to the compound where it was found.

"We wanted to see it before it was taken so we can identify the body, but we were told to go the morgue and identify it there," Eissa said.

Dozens of armoured vehicles and security forces in riot gear were deployed along the road to the Bahrain International Circuit and around the capital, Manama.

Activists said barbed wire has been installed near some parts of the main highway.

In a statement on social networking website Twitter, the interior ministry confirmed the death and said authorities have launched an investigation into the incident.

The death came as the royal family pledged once again that the F1 event wold go ahead despite the ongoing protests by the country's mainly Shia population demanding greater rights.

"I genuinely believe this race is a force for good, it unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities," Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who owns the rights to the event, said on Friday.

Thousands of anti-government protesters were dispersed after flooding a major highway demanding a halt to the race on the first day of its practice on Friday.

Banners and chants

A source in Manama, who cannot be named for security reasons, described the part of the protest that he followed: "I would say about 3,000 people gathered with banners and chanting for freedom and democracy and dignity.".

"That demonstration has now been effectively disrupted by the police.

He said a "good deal" of the protesters were taking cover from the tear gas and riot police in a shopping mall.

Violence has escalated in the run-up to the Grand Prix, which has come under huge criticism from country’s mainly Shia protesters, while the government wants the race to run as per schedule to send out a signal to the world of a return of normalcy.

"The government are using the Formula One race to serve their PR campaign," said rights activist Nabeel Rajab. "It's not turning out the way they wanted."

The protesters have blamed the Sunni ruling elite for shutting them out of opportunities, jobs and housing.

They have made it clear they will use the international attention the motor race has focused on Bahrain to air their grievances.

'Three days of rage'

The rulers have depicted the race - expected to draw a worldwide TV audience of about 100 million in 187 countries - as an event that will put the divided society on the path of reconciliation.

Activists said that more than 100 protest organisers were arrested this week. Police acknowledged arresting some people.

Late on Friday, protesters clashed with riot police in Bahrain when dozens took to the streets in several villages, witnesses said.
 
Security forces fired tear gas and sound bombs to disperse the demonstrators, some of whom responded by hurling petrol bombs and stones, the sources said, adding that the clashes were "violent".

Friday's rally was staged under government sanction, but riot police fired stun grenades and tear gas at a group of about hundred protesters who broke away from the rally and headed to Pearl Square, the now heavily guarded roundabout in the capital that had served as the opposition's hub during the first weeks of last year's uprising.

Sheik Isa Qassim, Bahrain's most senior Shia Muslim leader, condemned the Sunni rulers for staging the race despite opposition protests.

In a strongly worded sermon during Friday prayers, he said the rulers have cracked down on dissent aggressively in the run-up to the event "as if we are entering a war".

The February 14 Youth Movement has called on social networking sites for "three days of rage" to coincide with the race, that was cancelled last year in the wake of mass protests.


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