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In Bahrain, Twitter tells the story of police, protesters and Formula One race

Hamad I Mohammed / REUTERS

An anti-government protester pulls Zaynab al-Khawaja, daughter of Bahrain human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, as riot-police arrive in the main market in the capital Manama during an anti-government protest. Crowds of masked protesters hurled petrol bombs at police who fired tear gas back in Bahrain on Saturday.

Attendance may have been low at the prestigious Formula One Grand Prix Race in Bahrain, but once Sebastian Vettel clinched the title, Bahraini officials took to Twitter to express their satisfaction with the race. They did not mention the violent, ongoing protests taking place around the island state.

"F1 cars will never Stop .. Neither will Bahrain inshAlla :)" Khaled H. Alkhalifa, Bahrain's foreign minister, tweeted. He has more than 78,000 followers and describes himself as a "reader" and "bon vivant." The general secretary of the Bahrain Olympic Committee posted a picture of the revelry.


Outside the arena, however, protesters painted a less chipper portrait of a country in turmoil, where mostly Shiite protesters have been demanding more rights in this Gulf monarchy since last year. Their tweets, organized under the same #Bahrain hashtag that government officials were using, included pictures of protesters walking peacefully and a woman kneeling in traffic.

Their images were also gruesome -- of tear gas flooding streets and of men whose backs were ravaged with bruises, welts and wounds from being shot with shotgun pellets.

Non-protesters described a scene fraught with tension. A woman who identified herself as Fatima Haji wrote: "My 3yrs old son, my husband and I are suffocating in our flat in Bani Jamra as security forces are shooting tear gas in Duraz!!"

Dr. Ala’a Shelabi, a leader among the protesters, tweeted, ominously: "Under arrest. Surrounded by" without finishing her tweet. 

The foreign editor for Channel 4 News in England tweeted that he and his crew had been arrested, and that his driver had been dragged out by security forces, bleeding from slashes to his arms.

Alkhalifa, the foreign minister, took to Twitter to express his disdain: "Channel 4 news crew admit to working without accreditation .. Not acceptable. Laws of the land should be respected."

Non-sports reporters had been denied visas into the country.

A man identifying himself as RedBelt boldly replied to the foreign minister: "Your excellency, that link says local driver was beaten and taken away. He had nothing to do with their accreditation."

To which Alkhalifa replied, "Well that’s what they say! Do you and I know the full story?"

The tension did reach at least one Formula One team. A bomb exploded next to a car carrying four team members of Force India on Wednesday. Two team members returned to the UK the next day.

Force India members became increasingly anxious when protester Salah Abbas, 37, was killed by shotgun pellets fired by riot police on Saturday.

The team felt the wrath of race organizer Bernie Ecclestone when they didn’t show up to a practice out of concern for their safety. Their car got little coverage on the main television feed, prompting angry calls to networks from around England, the Guardian of London reported.  

Ecclestone, irritated by the team’s decision, told the Guardian: "None of the other teams seem to have a problem." 

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