By Alan Baldwin
MANAMA (Reuters) - Cancelling the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday would only "empower extremists", the country's Crown Prince told reporters on Friday, following pro-democracy protesters' calls to mark the event with "days of rage".
Speaking to the media at the Sakhir circuit, alongside Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and in front of television crews broadcasting live to their countries, Crown Prince Salman made clear that calls for the race to be scrapped would fall on deaf ears.
"I think cancelling the race just empowers extremists," he declared.
The government aims to use the Grand Prix as a way of showing that life is back to normal after a democracy movement launched an Arab Spring-inspired uprising last year. The protests were initially crushed, but were not stamped out, and demonstrations and clashes are frequent.
"For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build bridges across communities, to get people working together. It allows us to celebrate our nation. It is an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive."
The Prince was speaking after two of the 12 teams said their staff had seen protesters and petrol bombs on their way back from the track to hotels in Manama.
The Force India team missed Friday's second practice for safety reasons to make sure staff could get back to their hotels safely before nightfall.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Will Waterman)