F1 insists Bahrain GP will go on, despite unrest

The Bahrain Grand Prix is still on for April, despite opposition protests marking the one-year anniversary of a civil uprising against the minority rule in the Gulf kingdom.

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone dismissed Tuesday's massive anti-government protest in Manama as "a lot of kids having a go at the police." The race was canceled last year because of unrest.

"I don't think it's anything serious at all," Ecclestone was quoted as saying in The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday. "It doesn't change our position in any shape or form."

"If the people in Bahrain (the government) say, 'Look Bernie, it wouldn't be good for you to come over here,' then I would think again. That is what they said last year."

At least 40 people have been killed during a year of unprecedented political unrest in Bahrain. On Tuesday, police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters to prevent them from regrouping on the outskirts of Manama and marching to Pearl Square — the epicenter of opposition's demonstrations last year.

The clashes prompted renewed uncertainty about whether the 2012 F1 race can go ahead. It was canceled after last year's revolt by the Shiite majority against the Sunni rulers.

But governing body FIA said the race, which was first staged in 2004, will go ahead on April 22.

"The FIA, like many in the diplomatic community in the kingdom, ... believes the staging of a grand prix would be beneficial in bridging some of the difficulties Bahrain is experiencing," the governing body said Wednesday. "The FIA is not in a position to influence political matters in a sovereign country such as Bahrain and we can only wish for a long-term peaceful solution.

"A number of reforms have been enacted, others are going through legislation. We warmly welcome this, as does the motor sport community which we represent."

Bahrain's ruling dynasty has promised reforms to end the upheaval, although it refuses to make the far-reaching changes the protesters and the main opposition movement, Al Wefaq, has demanded.

The island of 525,000 inhabitants became the first country in the Middle East to be awarded a grand prix in 2004 and draws a worldwide TV audience of about 100 million viewers in 187 countries.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa owns the rights to the grand prix and serves as commander of the armed forces in the island country. Rulers there are eager to stage the race this year to show that the kingdom is safe and draw foreign investors and tourists back to the country.

A national dialogue began in July, but Al Wefaq delegates pulled out of the talks, saying the government was not willing to discuss political reform.

Since then, no talks have taken place, but street clashes between security forces and opposition supporters have occurred almost on daily basis for months.


Associated Press writer Barbara Surk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.