FIA sure controversial Bahrain GP is safe

By Michael Casey, AP, 19 April 2013
© AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

The Bahrain Grand Prix has been overshadowed to some degree by the political crisis in the divided Gulf country.

While the circuit has been quiet, daily clashes have taken place in nearby Shiite villages between pro-democracy protesters and riot police.

The race will go ahead Sunday despite an ongoing political crisis in the divided Gulf nation that saw thousands of pro-democracy protesters clash with riot police Friday afternoon west of the capital Manama -- some demanding the race be cancelled due to alleged rights abuses in the country.

Rights groups, meanwhile, have condemned the race going ahead amid allegations of crackdowns and widespread arrest of government opponents.

Late Friday, riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades in attempts to disperse protesters gathered along a main highway outside the capital, Manama, to chant against Formula 1 and wider crackdowns by Bahrain authorities. Some of the demonstrators wore masks with the image of jailed rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

The demonstration was about 20 miles from the circuit and there was no sign of the clashes at the track or the road leading to it.

Also, the British television channel ITV said Bahrain expelled its crew members after being detained while filming at a mosque. Bahrain officials said three journalists were asked to leave because of violations of media "regulations," and gave no other immediate details.

Several teams, including Ferrari and McLaren, endorsed the decision to come to Bahrain amid a political crisis, and the FIA, the governing body of world motor sports, gave the OK to race on Sunday. It said the Bahrain GP should proceed "following assurances from the local promoter and the authorities that security, their responsibility, will be guaranteed for all participants."

"I don't think it would be good for Formula 1 to be involved in the political situation of the country because then there is the risk of being pulled from one side to the other, which is not really what we should do," Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said. "For us, it's a place where Formula 1 has always been hosted at the top level and we see since 2004, when I believe the first Grand Prix was here, that there was a great development of Formula 1 as a sport in the Middle East area."

F1 boss Bernie Eccelstone scoffed at reports of trouble, telling reporters "you guys are the ones who write about the rubbish. Have you found any?"

"Looks all right, doesn't it?" he said. "I think anyone who really wants to see and talk about human rights should go to Syria, maybe. There are plenty of places in the world like Egypt where they got rid of dictators and put democracy in. Since then, there has been more trouble."


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