Cancelling F1 would "empower extremists": Bahrain Prince

Sat Apr 21, 2012 7:05am EDT
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By Alan Baldwin

MANAMA (Reuters) - Cancelling Sunday's Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix would only "empower extremists", the country's Crown Prince told reporters on Friday as police in the small Gulf state battled to put down pro-democracy protests.

Prince Salman did not respond directly to questions about whether he could guarantee the safety of teams, however, saying instead that he was able to guarantee that the protests were not directed against Formula One.

Standing alongside Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone at the Sakhir circuit, the Crown Prince made it clear to the assembled TV crews that calls from home and abroad for the race to be scrapped would fall on deaf ears.

"I think cancelling the race just empowers extremists," he declared, without specifying exactly who he had in mind.

"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."

The Prince's statement came after two of the 12 Formula One teams said their staff had seen protesters and petrol bombs on their way back from the track to hotels in Manama, the capital.

The Britain-based Force India team missed Friday's second practice session for safety reasons to ensure staff could get back to their hotels safely before nightfall. Two shaken team employees have already left the country.

Bahrain's ruling al-Khalifa family, a Sunni Muslim dynasty ruling a majority Shi'ite population, is struggling to quell a wave of protests by Shi'ite youths unhappy about what they say is preferential treatment for Sunni Muslims in everything from housing to jobs.   Continued...