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Bahrain GP still on - FIA

2012-02-16 09:11

LONDON, UK - The Bahrain Grand Prix is still on for April 2012, despite opposition protests marking the one-year anniversary of a civil uprising against the minority rule in the Gulf kingdom.

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone dismissed anti-government protest in Manama as "a lot of kids having a go at the police".

"I don't think it's anything serious at all," he proclaimed. "It doesn't change our position in any way, shape or form. If the people in Bahrain (the government) say, 'Look Bernie, it wouldn't be good for you to come over here,' then I would think again. That's what they said last year."

GO-AHEAD AS PLANNED

At least 40 people have been killed during a year of unprecedented political unrest in Bahrain. Earlier in February police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters to prevent them regrouping on the outskirts of Manama and marching to Pearl Square - the focus of the 2011 demonstrations.

The clashes prompted renewed uncertainty about whether the 2012 F1 race could go ahead after the 2011 revolt by the Shi'ite majority against the Sunni rulers led to Bahrain's premier international event being cancelled.

The International Automobile Federation said the race, first staged in 2004, would go ahead on April 22 as planned. A statement read: "The FIA, like many in the diplomatic community in the kingdom, believes the staging of a GP would be beneficial in bridging some of the difficulties Bahrain is experiencing.

"The FIA is not in a position to influence political matters in a sovereign country such as Bahrain so can only wish for a long-term peaceful solution. A number of reforms have been enacted, others are going through legislation. We warmly welcome this, as does the motorsport community which we represent."

FIRST FOR MIDDLE EAST

Bahrain's ruling dynasty has promised reforms to end the upheaval, although it refuses to make the far-reaching changes the protesters and the main opposition movement, Al Wefaq, have demanded.

The strategically important island of 525 000 inhabitants became the first country in the Middle East to be awarded a GP (in 2004) and has a worldwide TV audience of about 100-million in 187 countries.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa owns the rights to the race and is commander of the island's armed forces. Rulers there are eager to stage the race this year to show that the kingdom is again safe for investors and tourists.

A so-called national dialogue began in July 2011 but Al Wefaq delegates pulled out,  saying the government was not willing to discuss political reform. Since then no talks have taken place and street clashes between the army and opposition supporters have occurred almost daily for months.

AP