/ Motorsport

Countdown to Bahrain GP underway as trouble flares up again

Updated: Monday, 16 Apr 2012 21:28 | Comments

Protests and violence again sparked up close to the Bahrain International Circuit
Protests and violence again sparked up close to the Bahrain International Circuit

Police and anti-government protesters were again involved in a running battle on the outskirts of Bahraini capital Manama just days ahead of this weekend's Formula One grand prix.

The latest skirmish took place in Salmabad, a village 10 kilometres from the centre of Manama and 18km north of the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) in Sakhir where F1 is scheduled to return after a year's absence.

Last season's race was scheduled as the season-opener, but was eventually cancelled in the wake of the 14 February 'Day of Rage' that resulted in the deaths of many demonstrators.

Since then almost daily protests have occurred, consigned to the villages, but prompting speculation as to whether this year's race could go ahead until the FIA confirmed on Saturday that it had no security concerns and the race would proceed as planned.

What unfolded in Salmabad, on the third day of mourning for the death of local cameraman Ahmed Ismael Hassan Al Samadi, was no different to what has regularly taken place in recent months.

A 2,000-strong group that included men, women and children marched through the streets of Salmabad calling for the end of the reign of King Hamad, whose minority Sunni government rule over a majority Shia populace.

Come the conclusion, the men then armed themselves with Molotov cocktails, threw chunks of concrete on the road where they stood to form a make-shift roadblock and covered their mouths with bandanas or gas masks in readiness for the tear gas to come.

The Bahraini riot police, who had been waiting behind a nearby university building, were ultimately goaded from their hiding place as the protesters, then numbering around 200, decided to march towards them.

Inevitably, the police responded with tear gas, dispersing the crowd who also threw stones and bricks, as well as setting alight rubbish bins and small piles of wood in the middle of roads.

On this occasion there appeared to be no casualties, with the gathering broken up after around 30 minutes.

This, however, is only the start of a week-long run of protests, with one planned tomorrow at a village sited near the airport, Al Dair.

The suspicion is the protesters will now take their cause closer to F1 as the race weekend looms, starting with first practice on Friday morning.

On Wednesday, what has been described by a risk assessment group as "a vehicular rally" is to take place along two of the main highways that lead up to the airport when most F1 personnel are due to arrive.

Today's arrival into Bahrain was peaceful enough, with GP staff on hand at the airport, including a cameraman and photographer to catch the arrival of their first F1 guests.

That included drivers - Williams' Bruno Senna and Sergio Perez from Sauber - along with two reserves in Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi and Jerome D'Ambrosio from Lotus.

There are plenty of posters and banners promoting the race, most notably on lamp posts leading away from the airport, one especially counting down the days to Friday.

But given the potential for disruption, BIC chairman Zayed R Alzayani does not believe the future of the race is at stake.

"We've been in Formula One for seven years and we will be in it for much longer than that," Alzayani told Press Association Sport.

"We wouldn't take a decision on a gamble. But it's a calculated decision, we've weighed up our options and we are committed to the grand prix and to its success.

"I don't think anything drastic will happen. It's not Syria or Afghanistan. I don't see why anything should happen this year that hasn't happened in the previous years.

"The race will be positive to the country, positive to the economy which has suffered a lot in the last year and a half, and it will put things in perspective.

"A lot of the damage that has happened to Bahrain post the events of last year have been driven by perception, by people not necessarily writing what they see or hear.

"For us, we will be happy for the teams and the journalists and the media to come to Bahrain and see it and then write about it.

"Things are not 100%, but they are not as bad as people make them out to be."

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