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Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Grand Prix Protests

Wednesday's night mass protest in the Damascus suburb of Irbeen

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Bahrain Video Special: Activists Declare "No Formula 1 in A Bloody Kingdom"
Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers
Wednesday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Appealing to Damascus

2130 GMT: As reported earlier, many journalists have been denied entry into Bahrain to cover the F1. Earlier this evening, a team from Sky News, intending to cover the humanitarian and political situation in Bahrain, were likewise denied entry. EA understands that the team is now back in Dubai and remain intent on gaining entry into Bahrain to see for themselves the situation on the ground.

The Sky News team was headed by Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay who has been tweeting about the experience and his frustration with the Bahrain authorities:

1959 GMT: Multiple journalists, from news Agencies such as AFP and AP, have been denied entry into Bahrain to cover the F1 race:

Associated Press said two of its Dubai-based journalists were prevented from covering the Grant Prix because they could not receive entry visas, despite being accredited by the FIA.

Meanwhile, cameramen already in Bahrain were required to keep fluorescent orange stickers on their cameras so that they would be easily recognisable to ensure they do not cover any off-track events, such as ongoing protests.

1905 GMT: Turning back to Bahrain, several large evening rallies are reported - as is teargas.

These are picture of protesters gathering before the violence:

However, the peace was not to last:

1854 GMT: There was plenty of violence to go around today in Syria, but it's also fair to say that violence, and the death toll, was much lower today than it has been for most of the week.

The headlines, therefore, are much more subtle - more and more protests, especially as the day is going on.

Syria has seen a steadily rising death toll for months as the regime has worked hard to shut down a movement that started as a protest movement and has morphed into a revolution. As our separate feature suggests, the majority in the opposition still see the movement as a protest movement. If the violence does subside in Syria (indications are that it will not), then the Assad regime will be faced with the same problem it has always faced - the overwhelming majority of people want Assad to step down and fully-democratic elections to be held.

See also Syria Feature: Activists to Insurgents "We Want Our Revolution Back"

Last Friday's protests were extremely wide spread, impressive even the activists. Tomorrow's protests could be epic. However, there were also large, widespread protests today. NPR's Ahmed al Omran shares this video of protests in Damascus:

This video was taken in Yabroud, a suburb of Damascus, at a funeral:

And this was in Daraa city:

This evening, there are many impressive demonstrations. This video was taken in Kafer Roumeh, Idlib:

1805 GMT: A strange video - periodically, activists have reported the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Most of those reports come from sources that have not proven reliable, and most of them have come from Homs.

However, the frequency of these reports has been increasing for days, and the color of the smoke coming from this explosion is curious. The validity of this video, or of the claims that chemical weapons have been used against civilians, are unconfirmed:

1751 GMT: Al Jazeera's Listening Post interviews Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who arguably became to face (or, perhaps more appropriately, the hands) representing th Syrian governments' crackdown against those who oppose it:

1643 GMT: EA's John Horne reports:

Physicians for Human Rights has raised serious concerns over the "indiscriminate and systematic use of tear gas against civilian protesters and densely populated Shia neighborhoods" in Bahrain, following a investigatory visit to the Kingdom.

Deputy Director Richard Sollom outlined the concerns further:

Despite promises of reform since our investigation to the Kingdom last year, the Government’s excessive use of force has only increased. Security forces now strategically use tear gas – its innocuous-sounding name belies its deadliness – as a potentially lethal weapon against men, women, children, and the elderly alike.”

More troubling is the Government’s pattern of attack. Not only do security forces target street protesters, they go out of their way to shoot or throw tear gas into civilian homes. We may be beginning to see serious longer-term health consequences among people routinely exposed to high doses of this toxic gas. Based on our findings, PHR is concerned about possible increased rates of miscarriage and birth defects in Bahrain.

Dr Holly Atkinson, past President and co-investagator continued, with further fears about the militarization of heathcare in Bahrain, including the continued interrogation of individuals at Salmaniya Hospital:

When all eyes turn to Bahrain this weekend to watch the Formula One race, we cannot forget the protesters who are being constantly attacked by their own government.

Last week, I saw young children regularly exposed to tear gas and spoke with women who had suffered miscarriages, which might be due to prolonged tear gas exposure. Even worse, many of these vulnerable people are afraid to go to a hospital for care.

By militarizing the country’s medical system, the Government of Bahrain has succeeded in intimidating and subduing a vulnerable population—the sick and wounded. Many patients are afraid to seek care and instead are utilizing private hospitals or an ad hoc community network of care provided by medics and civilians.

These strong criticisms from Physicians for Human Rights come a day after Bahrain's Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, "called on Bahrain’s doctors to steer clear of politics and protect their noble profession from infiltration by extremist factions," according to a report in Gulf Daily News.

1603 GMT: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to the House Armed Services Committee today, which is where Dempsey said that the US was militarily capable of intervening in Syria (see last update). Panetta also said that "the situation is of grave consequence to the Syrian people."

Congress appears to be uncertain which direction to move. Senior Senator John McCain has called for intervention, while others are more hesitant. However, there is a growing consensus that there is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a growing regional security threat inside Syria.

"I am not recommending U.S. military intervention, particularly in light of our grave budget situation, unless the national security threat was clear and present," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the committee's chairman. "Nevertheless, these reflections lead me to wonder what the United States can do to stem the violence and hasten President Assad from power."

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington State, the panel's ranking Democrat, said the United States should support the Syrian people "but we must be extremely cautious as we discuss the potential for the use of military force."

While Washington is still a long ways away from calling for intervention, this marks a tremendous shift, especially since as recently as February Dempsey was sounding concerns about any potential mission in Syria.

1550 GMT: There are yet more signs that the US may have put military intervention in the Syrian crisis back on the table. Last December, many concerns were raised about how difficult the military mission would be in Syria. The signs from the US military indicated that there was hesitance to accept the mission or, at the very least, the military was not willing to answer those who voiced serious concerns about the feasibility of the mission.

Today, however, General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has dismissed those criticisms and has said that the mission is, in fact, feasible:

1546 GMT: After many months of denying that there was any military option for ending the Syrian crisis, The Guardian reports that this may have changed:

Setting up buffer zones and forming contacts with Free Syrian Army are back on the US agenda as the White House is seeking a plan B for toppling the Assad, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

The change in tack coincides with a change of personnel at the national security council and growing frustration at the failure of diplomatic options. It quotes an official saying:

"There was a fundamental decision made at the highest level that we need a real Syria policy with more options for the president. Our allies were coming back to us and saying 'What's your next move?,' and we were forced to admit we didn't have one."

The article adds: "There's a growing consensus inside the [Obama] administration that the violence in Syria is not abating and that multinational diplomatic initiatives such as the plan put forth by UN special envoy Kofi Annan are not convincing Assad to enter into a political process to transition to democracy, much less yield power and step down."

1536 GMT: Earlier there were widespread reports of clashes in Bahrain. Now, those reports are still coming in. However, in about an hour, several prominent activists have planned another protest, including Zainab AlKhawaja, whose father is on his 71st day of hunger strike in a Bahraini prison:

Also, a prominent Bahraini activist tweets an ugly picture of a protester who was reportedly shot in the eye with some sort of projectile by Bahraini police.

1531 GMT: There are still clashes ongoing in Bahrain. This incident reportedly occurred about 5 minutes ago:

1526 GMT: There is already backlash from yesterday's widespread violence in Bahrain --- Four Indian Formula 1 mechanics were caught up in the clashes:

The four mechanics were travelling in a hire car along the main highway in to Manama and were accidentally caught up in the protest after being forced to stop the car on the road.

A Molotov cocktail thrown by a protestor reportedly exploded close to their car and tear gas fired by police entered the cars ventilation system, but the driver managed to escape. No injuries were reported.

According to the report, one of the mechanics has left Bahrain, citing security concerns. However, we have learned that a second mechanic has also left the country.

1503 GMT: Bahraini's main opposition party, AlWefaq, has posted a graphic photo gallery of injuries that they claim are the result police using birdshot against protesters. Another group of activists post a gallery of more than 40 injured protesters. According to the opposition, all of these injuries are the result of birdshot used on April 18th, and while birdshot was used before this it was not reported in such high volumes (see update 1430).

1458 GMT: With reports of violence in Syria still pouring in, the LCCS already reports that 17 have been killed so far today by Assad forces:

6 martyrs in Homs, 4 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs, 2 martyrs in Hama, 2 martyrs in Idlib, a martyr in Daraa, a martyr in Damascus, and a martyr in Deir Ezzor.

1439 GMT: It's been a long week in Bahrain, and with the Formula 1 Race this weekend, it is likely to continue to get more intense.

We believe that this picture was taken a little while ago - but it's a pretty common scene today:

1430 GMT: EA's John Horne reports:

Bahrain Watch, an activist monitoring group, has just published a press release citing "a dramatic escalation in the use of birdshot and live ammunition by police against protesters over the past weeks", with "at least 11 shotgun injuries" identified yesterday.

The release continues:

Birdshot is typically used for hunting animals, or for clay shooting, where competitors shoot to break flying stone discs. Metallic birdshot is almost never used for riot control. When shotguns are employed for riot control in other countries, officers typically shoot “less-lethal” ammunition such as “beanbag rounds.” In contrast, Bahrain’s police primarily use cartridges specifically designed and marketed for hunting or clay shooting. Eleven civilians were killed with birdshot in Bahrain during 2011 according to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and Human Rights Watch, and scores have been injured throughout 2011 and 2012.

On 18 April 2012, Bahrain Watch noted an unusually large number of images and videos of birdshot injuries from at least five areas around Bahrain. Reports on Twitter claimed up to 23 were injured by shotgun pellets on the night of 18 April. No medical records exist, as birdshot victims are treated in private homes; presenting at a hospital with a birdshot injury may mean arrest. Through pictures posted by village news networks and activists, Bahrain Watch has seen at least 11 of these injured individuals.

Bahrain Watch has "identified six birdshot manufacturers, and four manufacturers of live ammunition whose products have been used in Bahrain" since February 2011. These include: G&L Calibers Ltd in Cyprus, Hull Cartridge and Gambore in the UK (Gamebore is owned by US based Kent Gamebore), and Italian companies Pegoraro Sport, Fiocchi and RC Cartridge.

1419 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group, reports that there were gunfights in Deir Ez Zor, and in Daraa city, between government forces and "defectors" after regime troops raided both cities earlier this morning. Last night, there were also rumors of clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and regime troops in several areas. So far, the activists are claiming that these were defensive actions, but it certainly gives us a sense that the opposition is not willing to hold fire if the regime is not either.

1410 GMT: The UN observers in Syria appear to be traveling through the countryside of Daraa, where the regime has been conducting heavy raids for many months, and even more intense raids for several weeks. The video was reportedly taken in Kharbet Ghazalah, where protesters are gathering around the UN convoy and chanting support for the Free Syrian Army (which would be the opposite of the goals of the peace plan). In another video, a grandmother is speaking harshly about the regime, and the UN's efforts.

Also, the LCC says that in Al Harak, a small suburb of Aleppo that has been the focus for both opposition rallies and government crackdowns, the observers visited, but when they left all hell broke loose:

Harak: Two martyrs were reported among dozens wounded in the city after the UN observers left the area and gunfire was unleashed by the regime. Gunfire has been ongoing since their departure and continues until now.

1401 GMT: Turning to Syria, there are renewed reports that the city of Homs has been shelled. Several activists have shared videos, and Al Jazeera has found this live broadcast, showing heavy shelling in the Khalidiya district:

1351 GMT: We're still sorting reports from Manama, Bahrain, but it appears that opposition leaders Nabeel Rajab and Said Yousife Almuhafda are both present, and police have used teargas and flash bangs (stun/sound grenades) against peaceful protests:

picture showing @NABEELRAJAB tweeting after the riot police a... on Twitpic

1342 GMT: More chaos in Manama:

Also, we've received this video from earlier, taken from behind a police line. At about the 20 second mark you can hear weapons being fired (teargas, stun grenades, bird shot, rubber bullets... we're not sure). Then at about 45 seconds, the police go running after something.

James Miller takes over for Scott Lucas. John Horne will also be helping out with Bahrain news.

1319 GMT: The United Nations and Syrian regime have agreed rules for the deployment of observers to monitor a ceasefire.

A spokesman for UN envoy Kofi Annan said the agreement covered the functions of the mission and the Syrian government's responsibilities. The Syrian foreign ministry said an accord on observers was signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad and a member of the UN advance team, which arrived in Syria earlier this week: "This agreement comes within the framework of Syrian efforts aimed at making the Annan plan succeed and to facilitate the UN observer mission while respecting Syria's sovereignty."

Annan's spokesman issued a statement, "This agreement outlines the functions of the observers as they fulfil their mandate in Syria and the tasks and responsibilities of the Syrian government in this regard. The hard part lies ahead...(for) a truly Syrian-led and -owned political dialogue to address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people."

1243 GMT: This video is causing a stir today on social media --- it claims to be of Bahraini police beating a protester in Sanabis last night. We are treating this as unconfirmed, while noting that the opposition society Al Wefaq is now circulating the footage and adding the remark of an EA correspondent, "There were lots of brutality used against protesters in Sanabis,.according to eyewitness I met today":

1153 GMT: Protesters greet United Nations observers in Kherbet Ghazala in Daraa Province in southern Syria:

1148 GMT: A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman has said that Beijing is considering the despatch of observers to monitor a cease-fire in Syria.

Liu Weimin told a news conference that Beijing was "seriously considering the issue of sending people to join the U.N. observers". He did not give details.

1145 GMT: Egyptian officials arrested political activist Julia Milad on Wednesday, as she arrived at Cairo International Airport for a flight to the US.

Milad was put on a travel ban after she was accused, along with Mamdouh Hamza, a leading activist and prominent civil engineer, of inciting strikes and civil disobedience.

1129 GMT: The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has said that 12,500 registered Syrians are now in Jordan, with the number expected to increase as "the Jordanian government and UNHCR believe there are tens of thousands of vulnerable Syrians in the country".

Jordanian officials have said that nearly 100,000 Syrians have sought refuge in the kingdom since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

The UNHCR asserted, "As of mid-April 2012, more than 55,000 people are estimated to have fled to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, putting an increasing strain on the governments and host communities."

A UN-backed survey has found that the number of civilians uprooted inside Syria has risen by about 230,000 since the start of the uprising. More than 600,000 people are now internally displaced, including about 400,000 from the country's 1967 war with Israel.

1122 GMT: Bahrain's Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development has denounced a Human Rights Watch report that criticised the regime's violations of rights.

Saturday's HRW report, "Grand Prix Decision Ignores Abuses", declared, "The decision to go ahead with the Grand Prix on April 22, 2012, gives Bahrain’s rulers the opportunity they are seeking to obscure the seriousness of the country’s human rights situation."

The Ministry responded:

The ministry does not understand the rationale behind issuing [the report] while at the same time HRW is dispatching a delegation to the country from April 15-19. It was expected that HRW abide by neutrality while reporting on human rights situations....It is unfortunate that the statement is preconceived, deliberate and premeditated to show the situation in Bahrain contrary to reality.

The ministry is saddened that the organisation did not wait until its delegation returned from Bahrain to issue the statement.

The Ministry continued that people can find out about Bahrain's reforms on regime websites.

1013 GMT: Protest today in Kafarsita in Syria's Hama Province:

1006 GMT: Index on Censorship has raised concerns after Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali outlined plans to “secure the electronic space of the country”, through exports from the Ministries of Technologies of Communication, Interior, Defence, and Justice.

In an interview on 12 April with State TV outlet Al-Wataniya, Government spokesperson Samir Dilou said “securing” the internet would be for “users’ benefit”, seeking to “prevent defamation and other virtual dangers”.

0942 GMT: A clear signal of the Bahraini regime's intent to close down further protests:

0937 GMT: The death toll from more than 10 car and roadside bombs across Iraq this morning is now at least 24, according to police and hospital sources.

In addition to deaths in and near Baghdad (see 0708 GMT), at least four people died and 24 were wounded in the northern city of Kirkuk by two car bombs aimed at police patrols.

0830 GMT: Activists are claiming continued Syrian regime shelling of Homs this morning --- footage of a burning building in the city:

And smoke over the city amidst sounds of explosions:

0730 GMT: International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo began a three-day visit to Libya on Wednesday, amidst disputes over whether Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of the former Libyan leader, will be tried in Libya or The Hague.

Moreno-Ocampo insisted, "Judges of the ICC will decide who makes the trial," although he added diplomatically, "The interesting thing is that the ICC wants to do justice on Saif (and) Libya wants to do justice on Saif, (so) there will be justice for Saif."

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Saif in February 2011, and he was captured by a Libyan militia in October. Last week, Libya's interim government appealed an ICC ruling calling for his immediate transfer from Libyan custody to a prison in The Hague.

Moreno-Ocampo The ICC envoy said he would not be visiting Qaddafi: "I cannot see Saif because there has to be a lawyer (present) and he has no lawyer."

0717 GMT: A Muslim American seeking asylum in Sweden has claimed that he was detained in the United Arab Emirtes at the U.S. Government's request, interrogated, and tortured.

Yonas Fikre told a news conference Wednesday that he was held for 106 days and was beaten, threatened with death and kept in solitary confinement in a frigid cell. The focus of his interrogation was the activities of a mosque in Portland, Oregon.

Fikre attended the Masjid-as-Sabr Mosque, as did a man who has been charged in a plot to detonate a bomb in Portland. He is the third Muslim man to declare that he was detained while traveling abroad and questioned about the mosque. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight US forces.

Fike moved to Sudan in 2009 and later to the United Arab Emirates. He left for Sweden, where he has relatives, after he was released from detention on 15 September.

0708 GMT: Explosions this morning in Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, Kirkuk and Samara, have killed at least 16 people and injured at least 54.

At least three Improvised Explosive Devices were set off in the neighbourhoods of Al Amel in southwestern Baghdad and Taji in the north of the capital, killing two people and injuring 11. Three more seperate car bombings in central and northern Baghdad killed five people and injured 13 others.

In Al Ghazaliya district, western Baghdad, an IED exploded as two gunmen were setting it up, killing both of them. In Samara city, north of Baghdad, a car bombing left three dead and six injured.

In northern Kirkuk province, two car-bombings killed four and injured 24 others.

0700 GMT: Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority has just announced the first winner of its Video Contest for this weekend's Formula 1 Grand Prix:

This film is somewhat different from those that we note in our special this morning, "Activists Declare 'No Formula 1 in A Bloody Kingdom'" --- an example:

0630 GMT: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has told the Security Council by letter that Syria has not fully complied with UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, failing to send a "clear signal" about its commitment to end violence.

"The Syrian Government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops, or to return them to barracks," he wrote, continuing:

Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by Government forces. The Government reports violent actions by armed groups.

The cessation of armed violence is therefore clearly incomplete.

Ban proposed an expanded U.N. monitoring mission with "an initial deployment" of up to 300 unarmed observers to supervise a cease-fire.

0520 GMT: And so the drama of the protests over the Bahrain Grand Prix rises. Wednesday was punctuated by reports of security forces trying to disperse marchers in the capital Manama, including prominent activists Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Alkhwajwa. Such encounters are far from new, of course, but this time there is the distinction of numerous foreign correspondents --- most in Bahrain to cover the Formula 1 race --- observing the actions of both demonstrators and the police attacking them.

The march in Manama was not large, with hundreds present (CNN claimed no more than 60 rallied), but it was guaranteed to raise the profile of causes such as freedom for political prisoners. And out of the sight, and thus the coverage, of the foreign reporters, an equally significant sign of the growing resistance: thousands were protesting in a march organised by the opposition society Al Wefaq.

Meanwhile in Syria, the message of Wednesday was of another kind of escalation, removed from the spectacle of the Grand Prix but just as potent. Although the "cease fire" is more slogan than reality, the challenge to the Assad regime of peaceful protest is again rising. Last night was marked by rallies across the country, including the Damascus suburbs.

A mass gathering in Irbeen (see top of entry) was significant because the Syrian military had tried earlier in the day, under the noses of international observers, to scatter demonstrators with gunfire. And then there was this display in Douma:

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