FIA President Jean Todt Believes Bahrain Grand Prix Can Heal Scars In Violent Region
FIA President Jean Todt has told pro-democracy protestors in Bahrain that the Bahrain Grand Prix "can have a healing effect on the divided nation," according to Kevin Eason of the LONDON TIMES. Todt, "who is not attending the event, replied by letter to representatives of democracy campaigners in almost his only word on a race that is overshadowed by political conflict" in Bahrain. Todt said to protesters, "It is our firm belief that sport and the F1 Grand Prix can have a positive and healing effect on situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions are causing distress." Diplomatic sources said that "the Gulf island is calmer than at this time last year when the BGP turned into a public relations disaster for the ruling regime and F1. But they fear that splinter groups, such as the so-called February 14 Youth Coalition, may be tempted to employ violence to attract global attention" (LONDON TIMES, 4/18). REUTERS' Alan Baldwin reported Bahrain Int'l Circuit Chair Zayed Alzayani said that "local support for the Bahrain Grand Prix is ‘overwhelming’ despite continuing unrest in the country." Alzayani said that "security arrangements for Sunday’s race were the same as last year and suggested that any protesters who resorted to violence would be guilty of ‘terrorism.’" Alzayani: “We don’t feel there is a direct threat to the track and nor have we received any threats. We don’t feel any extra threat is upon us this year” (REUTERS, 4/18).
SEVERAL ARRESTED AT RACE SITE: REUTERS reported that Bahrain "has arrested several people accused of stealing and burning cars amid heightened security in the island kingdom" before Sunday's F1 race. Bahrain's state news agency said on Wednesday that "authorities had arrested a man who later confessed to an incident in which a car burned and exploded in the country's financial district on April 14." Four other people accused of stealing and burning a car near a roundabout were also arrested and another person was detained over an accusation he blocked a main road and caused damage to a Bahraini's car. Amnesty International said human rights activists claimed dozens of protesters had been arrested ahead of the race (REUTERS, 4/18). The BANGKOK POST reported that witnesses said that "Bahrain riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades at Shiite protesters who hurled petrol bombs during demonstrations Thursday" against this weekend's F1 Grand Prix. Protesters chanted, "No. No to blood Formula" and "your race is a crime," denouncing the decision of F1 to go ahead with the race despite complaints of rights abuses by the kingdom's Sunni rulers against Shiites (BANGKOK POST, 4/18).
DEMONSTRATIONS ISOLATED: The AP reported that Thursday's demonstrations were mostly isolated to anti-government areas, however, and race organizers remain confident that the race will go ahead without disruption (AP, 4/18).