Bahrain GP labelled a 'PR stunt'

One of Bahrain's most outspoken opposition figures has denounced the return of Formula One as a PR stunt by the kingdom's rulers.

Bahrain Grand Prix.

Demonstrations against the sport are being ramped up across the Gulf island as the race looms this weekend following a two-year absence.

Protesters are becoming more vocal in their condemnation of the grand prix that was cancelled last season following a violent anti-government revolt.

It is understood clashes between dissident groups and police took place in 15 separate towns and villages throughout the country last night.

That followed a protest yesterday in a suburb of capital Manama spearheaded by the leader of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab.

Rajab believes the ruling al-Khalifa family are using F1 as a tool to further their own political aims worldwide.

Speaking to Press Association Sport in the middle of the rally, and with riot police yards away, Rajab said: "We're protesting to show anger at Formula One for conducting the race here.

"Formula One here is known to be the sport of the repressive dictators. Why is Formula One helping them?

"Formula One is the sport of the ruling family, the sport of the crown prince, the sport of the son of the king who brought it here.

"People see Formula One as representing these dictators, and it is not good, not even for Formula One.

"And people are angry because the ruling elite have been isolated internationally.

"With Formula One they are making a PR campaign to get the Bahrain government out of this isolation.

"The ruling regimen should be punished and not rewarded with Formula One.

"We hope and wish it (the race) does not happen. We think Formula One is giving the repressive dictators a way out."

Whilst there is understood to be sympathy for the protesters' pro-democracy stance, the over-riding concern for all within F1 this weekend is that of safety.

Fears exist that a dissident group such as the Coalition of the Youth of the Feb 14 Revolution, who have declared 'three days of anger' this weekend, will use F1 as a platform to further their cause.

However, Rajab added: "Nobody will hurt them. No group in Bahrain will ever harm you guys.

"Foreigners are respected amongst our people, especially western journalists because through you we can speak to the outside world.

"Nobody will harm anybody, no-one in a Formula One team, nobody.

"Yes, they are angry at the sport, but it's not personal, it's about politics."

Yesterday's demonstration in Bab Al Bahrain was dispersed after 75 minutes with riot police using sound bombs.

It is understood there were no casualties, other than one woman who was maced and another struck by a sound bomb.



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