Call for protests ahead of Bahrain race
(CNN) — An opposition group called for a week of demonstrations ahead of Sunday’s Formula 1 Grand Prix race in Bahrain.
The Bahrain Youth Coalition, which has organized a number of anti-government protests, wants “popular days of overwhelming rage” after motorsport’s governing body elected last week to hold the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
The decision came after weeks of speculation amid continuing protests and civil unrest in the Gulf kingdom.
In a news release issued Friday, the race’s governing body said its president traveled to Bahrain in November and met with “a large number of decision-makers and opinion formers, including elected Shia members of parliament, the president of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, ambassadors from the European Union countries, the Crown Prince, the Interior Minister and many members of the business community.
F1 chief: Sport, politics should not mix
Economic importance of Bahrain F1 race
Vettel on Bahrain F1 uncertainty
“All expressed their wish for the Grand Prix to go ahead in 2012,” it said.
The race, which was canceled twice last year because of concerns about safety, is due to run Sunday.
The owner of the host track, Bahrain International Circuit, said that the race should be trouble-free.
“The BIC has been clear throughout recent weeks and months that the security situation in Bahrain is suitable for the staging of a major sporting event,” it said in a statement.
The decision also was welcome news to the embattled government which has been dealing with widespread demands for political reform and greater freedoms in the Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority nation.
“The Cabinet welcomed a resolution from the International Motorsport Association in favor of conducting the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix Championship in the Kingdom,” a statement from the Cabinet said Sunday. “The Cabinet welcomes the organizers, participants and fans and all guests to the Kingdom of Bahrain.”
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said the decision to go ahead with the race “gives Bahrain’s rulers the opportunity they are seeking to obscure the seriousness of the country’s human rights situation.”
“Formula 1 promoters say their decision to race in Bahrain should not be derailed by political considerations, but the ruling family will attempt to portray (the) decision as a political statement of support for its repressive policies,” said Tom Porteious, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.
A number of media outlets said Monday that they would not be sending teams to Bahrain to cover the race over concerns about safety. Other organizations were weighing their options.
Further inflaming a number of the protesters was the precarious health of a jailed activist who has been on a hunger strike for more than two months.
Monday marked the 68th day without food for Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 52.
Bahrain Information Authority International Counselor Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak said Friday that he was in stable condition and being administered fluids intravenously with his consent.
Al-Khawaja was arrested in April 2011 for his role in anti-government protests that began a month earlier with demands for political reform and greater freedoms in the Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority nation.
In June, Bahrain found him and seven other Shiite opposition activists guilty of plotting to overthrow the country’s Sunni royal family. He can appeal his life sentence during a hearing April 23, the government said.
The United Nations has urged Bahrain to consider transferring the detainee, who holds Danish citizenship, to Denmark on humanitarian grounds.
But Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa of the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority said that the prisoner was being well cared for and that government officials had no plans to send him to Denmark.