Bahrain's Formula One race to go ahead

Bahrain welcomes FIA decision to proceed with race, despite continuing security crackdown on protests in country.

    Rights campaigners have slammed the FIA's decision to go ahead with the race [GALLO/GETTY]

    The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, which was postponed in March due to violent civil unrest, will go ahead later this year, the chairman of the country's Sakhir circuit has said.

    In a statement released on Friday, Zayed R Alzayani, the head of the Bahrain International Circuit, thanked "[F1 supremo] Bernie Ecclestone, [FIA president] Jean Todt and the FIA and the rest of the motorsport community for the support and understanding they have extended to us this year."

    The FIA says that the Bahrain Grand Prix will now be held on October 30, with the Indian Grand Prix moved to the end of the season.

    Sheikh Fawaz al-Khalifa, the head of the Bahraini information affairs authority, announced the decision shortly before Alzayani's statement.

    'Welcome news'

    The decision was reached by the FIA after a meeting of its World Motorsport Council in Barcelona on Friday. That meeting came on the heels of an FIA delegation's visit to Bahrain to assess the security situation.

    "This is welcome news for all of Bahrain. As a country we have faced a difficult time, but stability has returned; with businesses operating close to normal, the State of National Safety lifted and countries removing travel restrictions," Alzayani said.

    "Collectively, we are in the process of addressing issues of national and international concern, and learning lessons from the recent past. By the time the Grand Prix arrives we will be able to remind the world about Bahrain at its best."

    On Wednesday, the island's government ended a three-month period of emergency rule two weeks early, prompting activists to claim that emergency rule was ended early to increase the chances of hosting the Formula One race.

    Emergency rule had been imposed after one month of protests led by the country’s majority Shia Muslim population calling for political changes.

    The Sunni Arab monarchy invited troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help quell the protest movement.

    The Formula One race, originally planned for March, was cancelled days after protests began in February.

    Sports boycott

    Meanwhile, a petition gathering more than 320,000 signatures calling on Red Bull and other Formula One teams not to take part in the Bahrain Grand Prix has gone up on the advocacy website Avaaz.

    The petition reads: "Sports boycotts have piled pressure on other regimes such as apartheid South Africa - we can do it again."

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    Alex Wilks, Avaaz's campaign director, slammed the decision by international motorsport's governing body to go ahead with the race.

    "Formula 1's decision is a kick in the teeth for the Bahraini people. The race will happen in a country where government troops continue to shoot and arrest peaceful protesters. Money has trumped human rights and good judgement, so now F1, plus Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, and every other team will be directly linked with a bloody crackdown that's ruined the lives of hundreds of innocent people," he said in a statement released shortly after the decision was announced.

    The Reuters news agency reported that 28 out of 108 staff members of the state-owned Bahrain International Circuit , which hosts the Grand Prix, were fired from their work. All those fired were Shia Muslims, according to a colleague.

    Even so, a member of al-Wefaq, Bahrain's mainlly Shia opposition group, supported hosting the Formula One event.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera via telephone from Manama, Jasim Husain said: "Hosting the event in Bahrain would provide a golden opportunity and a way forward for some of the challenges we are facing today."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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