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Protests planned, but Bahrain goes ahead

Differing views abound as Bahrain prepares to host the F1 circus on a contentious weekend for sport.

Even as F1 team personnel, support staff and media slowly make their way from Shanghai to Manama for the recently-confirmed Bahrain Grand Prix, opposition to the race continues to cause headaches for organisers.

After a period of uncertainty akin to that which preceded last year's ultimately cancelled race, the FIA finally confirmed that F1 would return to Bahrain next weekend on Friday in Shanghai. Team principals attended a meeting with Bernie Ecclestone in the wake of the announcement, but offered no objection to the attending the event, despite some having privately harboured doubts about both the viability and morality of it going ahead. Various Twitter feeds reported the departure of drivers, personnel and journalists alike from Shanghai on Sunday night.

In Bahrain, meanwhile, Shiite opposition groups have made no secret of their intention to use the event as the focus of further protests against the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, although the degree of action varies from one faction to another.

While Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reports that Al-Wefaq, the country's largest Shiite bloc, is planning sit-ins and demonstrations under the banner of 'steadfastness and challenge', it intends to concentrate its protests in Shiite villages on the outskirts of the capital, although there is one scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday) near Bahrain's International Airport, which could coincide with the arrival of the majority of the F1 circus.

While Al-Wefaq has said that there are no plans for protests near the Bahrain International Circuit, however, the Revolution of February 14 group, a regular feature in clashes with security forces, has called for 'three days of rage' to coincide with the race activities at Sakhir.

Despite that - and images of protest and unrest being routinely posted on social media sites - Bernie Ecclestone insisted over the Chinese GP weekend that he had no concerns about the race going ahead, and his views are echoed by Bahrain Circuit chairman Zayed Al Zayani.

"We wouldn't take a decision on a gamble," Al Zayani said, "I think it's a calculated decision, we've weighed our options and we are committed to the grand prix and to its success. I don't think anything drastic will happen. It's not Afghanistan, it's not Syria. I don't see why anything should happen this year that hasn't happened in the previous years. You have some stuff going on in villages, but it's nothing that can't be handled.

"I have no doubt at all that F1 is not a target, not the teams, not the media. I think [the protesters] will probably look out for the media to try and get their message abroad, which is fine. Let them express their opinion. The country has gone through a tough year, we are still wounded in some aspects or another, and we are on the way to regaining our health, so to speak. I think the race will be positive to the country. We need it as a country, we deserve it. I think we have passed the worst of the incidents and we need help to restore the country back on track."

Veteran F1 journalist Byron Young isn't convinced by the reasoning, however, and, while praising Ecclestone for much of what he has done for F1, believes that his decision to back the running of the Bahrain Grand Prix is 'very wrong'.

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April 16, 2012 12:38 PM

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