The Formula One Grand Prix ran as scheduled on Sunday in Bahrain despite mass protests against the race. Demonstrators criticized the Bahraini regime for attempting to portray stability while continuing human rights abuses and repression. The racetrack was highly guarded, preventing demonstrators from gathering en masse. However, protesters assembled in the majority Shiite villages surrounding the capital of Manama. Sports journalists were granted access to cover the F1, but many news outlets, including The Times, were denied visas to limit coverage of the demonstrations. A group of British-based Channel 4 journalists were arrested and subsequently deported from Bahrain for filming a demonstration on Sunday. The media team's driver, Ali, was reportedly beaten and also detained along with prominent human rights activist, Dr. Ala'a Shehabi. Both were later released. One demand of protesters is the release of rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has undertaken an over 11-week hunger strike while incarcerated. The verdict from Bahrain's appeals court on his case was set to be delivered on Monday but the decision has been postponed to April 30.
Violence continues across Syria after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Saturday extending the observer mission from 30 to 300 members, with an up to three month mandate. There are currently eight monitors on the ground touring Syria, trying to preserve a truce brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan that has been challenged by regular violent attacks. The monitors sought access to the beleaguered city of Hama, and while Syrian state television, SANA, reported the mission visited the city on Sunday, opposition activists say the observers were brought to Rastan, a rebel held city to the south. Neither report has been confirmed, however an activist attested to the U.N. visit, saying that the city has been quieter. "We don't see the tanks anymore, they just hide them in government installations. But the troops are still around. The truce has had an effect but not to the extent that we can demonstrate freely." Two monitors have been stationed in Homs, after the team visited the restive city over the weekend and attacks have appeared to have subsided. Clashes were reported in the Damascus suburb of Douma. According to the Damascus Revolutionary Council, "Regime forces backed by tanks stormed Douma under heavy gunfire." Adding an additional layer to the conflict, the Washington Post reported that there has been an influx of Islamist extremists into Syria attempting to take advantage of the insecurity to broaden their influence. Saturday's Security Council resolution meanwhile expressed concern that the cessation of violence between the regime and the opposition is "clearly incomplete" and threatened "further steps" if there is not full compliance, which according to the United States, France, and Britain would mean increased sanctions. The European Union announced new sanctions on Syria on Monday, an act which was condemned by Russia.
- Egypt's state-owned gas company has canceled its controversial gas contract with Israel, which supplies the country with 40 percent of its natural gas at below market prices.
- A bombing targeting the Nocean Restaurant in Tyre in southern Lebanon wounded five of the establishment's employees in an act that the owner suspects was over the sale of alcohol.
- A Saudi Arabian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen on March 28 is to be released today. Meanwhile, armed militants abducted a French Red Cross worker traveling from the northern city of Saada.
Arguments & Analysis
Bahrain's Formula 1 is an insult to country's democratic reformers (Maran Turner, CNN)
"Unified: One nation in celebration" is the jubilant slogan of this year's Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain. The irony could not be harsher: while sports fans look forward to this glamorous race, one of the country's most prominent human rights activists is close to death in protest of his ongoing unlawful detention. Solidarity protests in the streets continue to be brutally suppressed. From the perspective of a majority of Bahrain's population, it is not one nation. And it is certainly not celebrating... It is time for the international community, sports fans or not, to call on the small kingdom to set things right, release peaceful human rights advocates like Mr. al-Khawaja and others, and start the reform process. The government should never have imprisoned Mr. al-Khawaja, who had only been exercising his internationally-protected rights of free expression; releasing him now is not only the humane thing to do -- it is a crucial step towards real unity and celebration.
"Two months after a new president took office, Yemen's fledgling interim government has found itself overwhelmed by a set of dangerous new challenges to the country's stability, including a series of a bold attacks by a resurgent militant movement in the south and a festering political standoff in the capital. In the last few weeks, the new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has faced open defiance after he tried to dismiss or reassign officials loyal to his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years. In the south, hundreds of people have been killed in clashes that intensified after insurgents attacked an army base and seized heavy weapons, including tanks."
A game changer for Syria? (Randa Slim, CNN)
"The future leaders of Syria will not come from the Syrian National Council or the National Coordination Committee for Change; they will emerge from the ranks of the revolutionary councils that are forming in different parts of the country. These councils bring together an eclectic mix of the most active local coordinating committees, independent activists, community and business leaders and military defectors. They are putting in place an administrative infrastructure that is akin to a local provincial council, handling everything from media affairs to helping families who lost their homes to providing legal aid to jailed activists. They are also coordinating with each other to protect relief supply lines that cross their respective territories. In the process, the leaders in these councils, who hail from Syria's different religious and ethnic groups, are developing political skills, cultivating local constituencies and learning through trial and error the business of governing. In a country that is increasingly polarized along sectarian and ethnic lines, these councils can perhaps provide the glue that keeps the country stitched together."
--Mary Casey & Jennifer Parker