Protesters Revive Controversy at Bahrain Grand Prix | Edmunds

Protesters Revive Controversy at Bahrain Grand Prix

Just the Facts:
  • Protesters are calling for the cancellation of the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, as race officials pledge that security will be guaranteed for all participants.
  • There have been media reports that demonstrations are planned for Friday.
  • The race was scratched in 2011 and was run under strained conditions last year.

SAKHIR, Bahrain — Violence is becoming as much a part of the Bahrain Grand Prix as the high-pitched scream of Formula 1 racing cars' engines, as police clashed with rioting protesters Thursday, the day before on-track activities begin at Bahrain International Circuit.

Formula 1 organizers say that security will be guaranteed for all participants. The race has become a target for protesters in the Gulf kingdom, which has been roiled by civil unrest.

There were no plans to alter activities at the track, where the 2011 race was first postponed from its spot as the first race of the season to the end of the year, and later scratched, and where last year's event was run despite protests. High-profile participants, such as Ferrari, made no mention of the unrest in race updates posted on their Web sites on Friday.

The 2012 race was marred by one incident in which a gasoline bomb was thrown at a car in which mechanics from the Force India team were riding. No one was hurt, but the race was fraught with plenty of controversy before and after the event.

"They [competitors] have always been safe here," said race Chairman Zayed Al Zayani. "This year won't be different."

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone commented earlier in the week, "there's no reason" why the race should not go on as scheduled.

Protesters took to the streets chanting and carrying anti-race banners, suggesting that the event will distract attention from the civil unrest that has existed ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings in December 2010, just months ahead of the start of the 2011 F1 season

The international watchdog group Human Rights Watch denounced F1, saying that holding the race made the grand prix series guilty of "ignoring rights abuses," according to its Web site.

Several of the protesters — labeled "terrorists" by the Bahraini government — were arrested for offenses such as blocking traffic, stealing cars, setting a vehicle on fire and throwing gasoline bombs.

Bahrain is an ally of the United States and is host to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. It gives the American military a strategically important base in the Persian Gulf.

The February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition, a group which uses the Internet and social media to organize protests, called Friday's action "first round of Volcanos of Flames."

Reports claim between 80 and 82 people have been killed in government action against protesters since December 2010.

Edmunds says: The Bahrain F1 protests come on the heels of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon and the suicide at the NRA 500, as violence seems to be a growing theme at sporting events.

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