MANAMA (Reuters) - Three Bahraini teenagers were wounded at a post-funeral rally late on Friday, the Gulf Arab country’s opposition said, on the same day that Formula One organizers said the Bahrain Grand Prix motor race scheduled in a week’s time would go ahead.
Mohammed Abdul Aziz, 14, was wounded by what appeared to be shotgun pellets, Habib Sroor, 16, was injured in the arm and eye and Sadiq Riyad, 15, had severe head injuries, a representative of Wefaq, Bahrain’s main opposition group, said on Saturday.
“He (Abdul Aziz) is stable. He is in Salmaniya ICU and his family met with him,” said another Wefaq spokesman, referring to one of the main hospitals in the Bahraini capital, Manama. The two others were in the same hospital.
A government official said on Saturday the information ministry was aware of the reports but could not verify any details.
They were apparently wounded during clashes between police and mourners at the funeral of a man shot during an anti-government protest two weeks ago, in Salmabad just outside Manama.
Petrol bombs were thrown towards the police, who kept their distance and used tear gas, according to a Reuters photographer.
The clashes took place hours after the International Automobile Federation (FIA) gave the green light for the Formula One event to go ahead. It was cancelled in Bahrain last year after a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
Formula One’s commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone said earlier on Friday the race was “200 percent” certain to go ahead. “All the teams are happy to be there,” he added. “There’s nothing happening. I know people who live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”
Bahrain’s Sunni rulers are keen to stage a successful race as part of their efforts to show progress on reforms and reconciliation with the majority Shi‘ite community after the protests last year, which were suppressed with the help of troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The crackdown, in which more than 30 people were killed, was condemned by several international human rights groups.
At stake for Bahrain at the April 20-22 race is not just the estimated 100,000 visitors and $500 million generated the last time the Formula One event was held, but the nation’s prestige.
Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa initiated the race in 2004, the first in the Middle East, and is also its honorary president.
Just after Friday’s decision by the FIA, Bahrain International Circuit said it was ready to hold the race and that the “the security situation in Bahrain is suitable for the staging of a major sporting event.”
“This assessment has been provided by experienced figures, from both inside and outside the Bahraini government, to motor racing entities which have travelled to Bahrain to do their own research,” the circuit said in a statement issued earlier on Friday, before the evening clashes.
It was unclear whether the reported injuries would have any impact on the Formula One organisers’ decision. Race officials, who are in Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend, were not immediately available for comment.
Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix was delayed, then cancelled, after mostly Shi‘ite pro-democracy demonstrators inspired by the “Arab Spring” revolts which toppled the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets demanding a greater say in government and better access to jobs, housing and opportunities.
Also weighing on a tense situation is the health of jailed rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for two months. A protest, mostly by women, was held at the British Embassy calling for his release.
The United States has expressed concern about Khawaja’s condition and Denmark, where he also holds citizenship, has been pressing for his release.
Four independent U.N. human rights experts urged Bahrain to release Khawaja, who has been sentenced to life for trying to topple the monarchy and other offences.
“In view of the urgency of the matter, we strongly call on the government to seriously reconsider the offer by Denmark to transfer al-Khawaja, a dual citizen of Denmark and Bahrain, on humanitarian grounds, for medical treatment to Denmark,” they said.
Writing by Reed Stevenson; Editing by Tim Pearce