LONDON – British police on Tuesday arrested two activists who had occupied the rooftop of Bahrain's Embassy in a protest against the Gulf kingdom's Sunni rulers.
The two men draped over the building a banner bearing pictures of hunger striking human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and senior Shiite opposition leader Hassan Mushaima, both of whom were sentenced to life in prison in Bahrain for their role in last year's revolt by the country's Shiite majority that has long demanded more political freedoms and opportunities equal to those of the ruling Sunni minority.
The BBC and Britain's The Independent newspaper both identified one of the protesters as Mushaima's son, Ali. The BBC said the other man is 30-year-old Moosa Satrawi. British police would not identify the demonstrators or say whether they are from Bahrain.
"Our demand is for my father and al-Khawaja to be freed," The Independent quoted the younger Mushaima as saying in a telephone interview. "The rulers of Bahrain are dictators."
The two men, who had scaled the building Monday and threatened to jump off its roof, were taken into custody Tuesday after they surrendered and were not immediately charged, said London's Metropolitan Police.
Earlier, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry urged Britain to protect its embassy and take legal action against the protesters. Bahrain is in the grips of a 14-month Shiite uprising against its Sunni rulers. The unrest could complicate efforts by Formula One to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix in four days.
Thousands of opposition supporters have rallied against the F1 race set to be staged on Sunday in the tiny but strategically important Gulf kingdom that is the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
On Tuesday, protesters chanted anti-monarchy slogans and demanded the release of political prisoners, including Mushaima and al-Khawaja, who has been on more than two-month hunger strike.
Human rights groups have urged Bahrain to free al-Khawaja, who is also a citizen of Denmark, warning that he could die in custody. Last week Bahrain's government rejected a Danish request to gain custody of the activist and transfer him to Denmark for medical treatment.
The Grand Prix is the nation's biggest sports event, drawing a worldwide TV audience of about 100 million in 187 countries. Organizers canceled last year's Grand Prix because of political unrest. At least 50 people have been killed during punishing crackdown by the Sunni-led government on dissent.
Bahrain's rulers claim the country is safe to stage the race and that the island nation is working on reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis. Shiite opposition leaders deny such claims and say the abuses of the opposition supporters remain rampant.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who owns the rights to the Bahrain Grand Prix visited the Bahrain International Circuit and inspected ongoing preparations ahead of Sunday's race, the government said in a statement Tuesday. It quoted Salman as saying the sporting event will contribute greatly to Bahrain's battered economy and warned the opposition against sabotaging it.
"This race is more than a mere global sport event and should not be politicized to serve certain goals, which may be detrimental to this international gathering," Salman said.
Associated Press writer Barbara Surk reported from Dohan, Bahrain.