20 April 2013
F1 continues despite Bahrain protests
Opposition protestors continued their pro-democracy rallies away from the insular world of F1, which got down to the business of practice for the Bahrain GP.
While there was no trouble within the confines of Bahrain International Circuit, protesters viewing the annual visit of F1 continued to make their opposition known in clashes with security forces elsewhere.
According to AFP, the February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition, which claimed responsibility for the explosions that rocked Manama in the build-up to the race weekend, had a protest march dispersed by tear gas and birdshot fired by police, while supporters were also involved in clashes in out-lying villages, where they threw petrol bombs at government forces.
It wasn't all violent protest, however, as the more moderate Al-Wefaq group – which was invited to talks with Bernie Ecclestone at both the 2012 and 2013 races – were allowed to progress peacefully along the Budaya highway west of Manama.
F1 media representatives have been reporting the level of security and police vehicles lining the route between their hotels and the circuit, but have not yet claimed to have witnessed the level of protest being reported elsewhere.
Not all sections of the media have been so fortunate, meanwhile, as one British television crew, not covering the race, were told to leave the country after allegedly 'violating' Bahrain's laws and regulations. Police have also been accused of rounding up pro-democracy activists in an effort to prevent trouble.
Following Friday's issuing of a joint FIA/FOM statement insisting that the race was safe and would go ahead as planned, Sir Jackie Stewart has joined the debate, comparing the situation in Bahrain to the infamous, and ongoing, rivalry between Glasgow's biggest football clubs.
“It's no different to Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic,” he opined, “The Glasgow constabulary wouldn't allow Hampden Park to be cleared at the same time. The Rangers [fans] had to be first and the Celtic guys later. They didn't want them to mix because they would kill each other. That's Roman Catholic and Protestant. In Bahrain, we have got Shia and Sunni.”
Expressing his support for the ruling family, with whom he helped orchestrate the grand prix more than ten years ago, Stewart claimed that while the media might be reporting the unrest while the race was there, Bahrain were moving forward in a more positive manner than some other countries in the region.
“They have already started a move towards democracy,” he told Britain's Independent newspaper, “You can go in shorts and a bikini in Bahrain, but women can't even drive in Saudi Arabia.
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