Graffiti is scrawled in the Bahraini village of Barbar on April 9, 2012. (AFP)

18 April 2012

DUBAI: Bahraini security forces have arrested some 80 leading pro-democracy activists in an attempt to contain the daily anti-government protests ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix race, a local rights group said Wednesday.

"About 80 people from several villages near (the capital) Manama have been arrested since April 14," the president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, Mohammed Maskati, told AFP, adding that the "mass wave of arrests is a preventive measure" by the authorities.

He said most of those arrested are "protest leaders" that have been organising near-daily demonstrations against the government in the kingdom's Shiite villages.

Tensions have been mounting in the unrest-hit kingdom ahead of Sunday's controversial Formula One race as the opposition and youth activists capitalise on renewed international attention on Bahrain's year-long political and sectarian crisis.

On Tuesday, hundreds protested near Bahrain's international airport as Formula One teams began arriving in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, carrying banners calling for a boycott of the race.

"Our demand: Freedom not Formula," read one banner. "We are human without rights," read another.

Prominent Shiite activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is on a hunger strike and has been convicted to life in prison has said that he will refuse intravenous infusions starting Wednesday and drink only water, according to his wife.

Khawaja's deteriorating health has raised fears that his potential death could spark a wave of violence in the already tense kingdom.

Bahrain's largest opposition grouping, Al-Wefaq, has called for a week of daily demonstrations and sit-ins to last through the end of the April 22 race.

The more radical February 14 Youth Movement, however, has called for "three days of rage" to coincide with the event.

The F1 race in Bahrain was cancelled last year in the wake of the Shiite-led uprising and the brutal government crackdown that followed in which 35 people were killed, according to an independent probe.

- AFP/cc