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Bahrain Grand Prix chief stands firm against 'scaremongering tactics'

updated 3:19 PM EDT, Thu April 12, 2012
A graffiti covered wall in a village near Manama to show opposition to the Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain later this month.
A graffiti covered wall in a village near Manama to show opposition to the Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain later this month.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bahrain GP organizers insist 2012 race should go ahead
  • Leading official blames 'scaremongering tactics' of campaigners
  • F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone says he can't force teams to go to Bahrain
  • Seven Bahraini policemen wounded in protest over hunger striker

(CNN) -- Bahrain Grand Prix organizers insisted Tuesday that the Formula One race scheduled for the Gulf kingdom later this month will go ahead despite mounting pressure for it to be scrapped.

The F1 circuit is returning to Bahrain after last year's event was canceled at short notice because of the security situation in the country in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Campaigners have criticized the decision to reinstate Bahrain as the fourth round of this year's world championship, pointing to alleged violations of human rights and the continuing unrest.

It was confirmed Tuesday that seven Bahraini policemen had been wounded by a home-made bomb during a protest near the capital of Manama.

The demonstrators called for the release of human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is on a hunger strike to protest the life sentence he received for his alleged role in the ongoing unrest.

F1's dilemma over Bahrain Grand Prix

But Zayed al-Zayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit where the F1 race will be staged, said Tuesday that criticism of the authorities was misplaced, blaming "scaremongering tactics" for raising doubts over whether the race should proceed.

"What has been happening is that armchair observers -- who have not been sufficiently interested or committed to investigate the situation for themselves -- have been driving this debate, at the expense of those neutral parties who have taken the trouble to investigate the situation at first hand," Zayani said in a statement released to CNN.

"This, combined with the scaremongering tactics of certain small extremist groups on social networking sites, has created huge misconceptions about the current situation.

"I therefore urge all stakeholders in the sport to listen to those with an informed, educated view of the situation and to form their views."

The Bahrain government said later Tuesday that visitors for the grand prix would find "safe and stable" conditions.

"As the government has said many times, protests continue in distant villages and a small number of these protests turn violent. As displayed last night, the occasional use of Molotov cocktails by this small number of rioters against police resulted in serious injury," read a statement released to CNN.

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone said Tuesday that he would let the teams decide on their participation in Bahrain.

"We've no way we can force people to go there," he told the UK's Press Association.

"We can't say 'you've got to go' -- although they would be in breach of their agreement with us if they didn't go -- but it doesn't help."

Ecclestone said that he and Jean Todt, the president of motorsport's world governing body the FIA, would consult with the teams in Shanghai, China this weekend where the third round of the F1 championship is taking place.

"We always meet with the teams," he added.

F1 expert Ed Foster of Motor Sport Magazine told CNN that the fate of the Bahrain race would be decided by the deliberations in China.

"I think it's 90% certain it will be called off," Foster said.

Meanwhile, campaigners are continuing to press for a last-minute cancellation, including non-profit action group Avaaz.

"Last year was an easier win, there was more focus on the killing of unarmed protestors which is why there is less of an inclination to call the race off on the part of the FIA (this year). But nevertheless the regime is committing human rights violations against innocent civilians," Avaaz spokesman Will Davies told CNN.

Bahrain staged the first ever F1 race in the Middle East in 2004 and organizers claim the event brings big financial benefits to the kingdom, worth an estimated $295 million in 2010.

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