Bahrain prince: Cancelling race would empower extremists20/04/2012 - 15:49:59
The Crown Prince of Bahrain feels cancelling his country’s grand prix this weekend would send out the wrong message and “empower extremists”.
Prince Salman today elected to voice his thoughts in the wake of a ramping up of demonstrations across the gulf kingdom that over the last two nights has directly affected two Formula One teams.
Given the level of violence, with petrol bomb-throwing protesters clashing with tear gas-responding police in isolated areas, it has spread concern the race could be called off at the last minute.
A number of British politicians have expressed their opinion the race should be cancelled, whilst Amnesty International have said “not much has changed” in Bahrain since last year’s protests led to the deaths of over 50 anti-government demonstrators.
However, Prince Salman said: “I think this race should continue because it is indeed a very big event for this country, important economically, socially.
“Political parties from the whole spectrum, both conservative and opposition, have welcomed the race.
“And it was only a few politicians who made those comments and it certainly doesn’t represent the entire British political system.
“I also think cancelling the race just empowers extremists.
“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.
“So I actually think having the race has prevented extremists from doing what they think they need to do out of the world’s attention.”
Prince Salman, however, is unable to guarantee the safety of any F1 personnel, despite the two incidents en route from the track to Manama.
On Wednesday, a pitched battle ensued between demonstrators and police, with eight petrol bombs landing in the vicinity of the traffic hold-up in which the Force India car was caught, forcing the riot police to respond with tear gas.
Last night, a Sauber mini-bus carrying 12 mechanics witnessed a fire in the middle of a main highway and another petrol bomb land close to their vehicle thrown by what has been described as “masked people”.
Prince Salman claims F1 is not being targeted, adding: “I can absolutely guarantee any problems that may or may not happen are not directed at Formula One.
“It goes to show there are people out to cause chaos. You had these problems last year in your country (referring to England).
“There is a big difference between protesting for political right and rioting, and the attack that happened around Force India was aimed at the police, was unprovoked and quite dangerous.
“At no time was anyone from Formula One in danger.”
Prince Salman does at least acknowledge Bahrain is “a real country with real issues”, with “complexities” and “shades”, and that protesting is every citizen’s right.
“I am very confident that protests, which will happen at some point – there’s a demonstration today – are part of the political process in any country,” he said.
“So why should we be any different? Why should our openness, relative to our neighbours, be used against us?
“I think it’s part of the political fabric of this country, the race is the race, and we are here to celebrate that. Frankly, I am here to go racing.
“I genuinely believe this race is a force for good. It unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities, under the roof of Formula One.”
Standing beside the Crown Prince, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone again shied away from the topic of the sport seemingly having become entwined with politics.
When it was suggested to Ecclestone that F1 had brought Bahrain into the international spotlight, he replied: “I don’t think we came here for that reason.
“We came here because this race asked to be put on the calendar, and we’re happy and delighted it was. We’ve come here and that’s it.
“What happens in this country is nothing to do with us.
“But this race has given the protesters an incredible platform for all you guys to talk to them.
“They say they talk about democracy, which is freedom of speech. They’ve had all the freedom in the world to talk to you guys.”
The briefing followed immediately after the second practice session in which neither Force India drivers Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg took part based on safety concerns.
Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley said: “We looked at it from the point of view of the well being of everybody, that the comfort of everybody is in place, and that’s the key objective for us.
“But the team is absolutely fully committed to racing here. We will be there for qualifying and the race.”
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