Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain, speaking immediately after the end of the afternoon F1 free practice session, has made it plain that the Grand Prix will definitely go ahead on Sunday - and that holding the race is good for the country despite the turbulent situation and civil unrest.

"I genuinely believe that this race is a force for good. It unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities under the roof of F1 and all of them are excited you are here," he told reporters in the paddock of Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir. "It allows us to celebrate our nation as an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive.

"I think this race should continue because it is indeed a very big event for this country. It is important economically and socially," he continued. "Cancelling the race just powers extremists. Having it allows us to build bridges and celebrate our nation as an idea that's positive."

In the UK, the Labour leader of the opposition joined the calls for the Bahrain Grand Prix to be cancelled, after the shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said in last night's Question Time programme on BBC1 that "I don't think British drivers should go and I don't think F1 should go ahead in Bahrain."

"Given the human rights issues in Bahrain, I don't think the Grand Prix should go ahead," agreed her boss, Ed Miliband. "I do not think the government should remain silent on this," he added, saying that it was the government's responsibility to "weigh in and express its view" on the matter.

But the Crown Prince rebuffed such criticism and pointed out that the Bahraini opposition fully supported the race.

"Political parties from across the whole spectrum, both conservative and opposition, have welcomed the race," he said. "As far as I understand it was a few [UK] politicians who made those comments and it doesn't certainly represent the entire British political spectrum.

"You had these problems last year in your country [in the August riots] and there's a very big difference between protesting for political rights and rioting," he continued. "The attack that happened around Force India [see separate story] was aimed at the police and it was unprovoked and it was quite dangerous ... At no time was anyone from F1 in danger."

He continued: "We are not trying to say that we are perfect. We are a real country with real issues and we hope that you get a chance to see us for all our complexities and all our shades.

Bernie Ecclestone, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Crown Prince in a scrum of reporters, also insisted that the race would go ahead. "I can't call this race off. It's nothing to do with us. We've an agreement to be here, and we're here," he reiterated.

Earlier, Force India had opted not to run in the second Friday practice in order to avoid returning to their hotel after dark. Ecclestone clearly disagreed with the decision and even revealed that he'd offered to travel back to the hotel with them - with or without security guards - if it would reassure them.

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