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Bahrain Grand Prix canceled due to ongoing civil unrest

  • The Bahrain Grand Prix has been canceled
  • Opening race of the Formula One season was due to take place on March 13
  • It is called off due to ongoing political unrest in the Gulf kingdom
  • The season will now begin in Melbourne, Australia on March 27

(CNN) -- The opening race of the Formula One season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, has been axed due to ongoing political unrest in the country.

The Bahrain government confirmed the race, scheduled for March 13, had been called off on Monday afternoon after days of speculation.

The Bahraini Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, informed Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone of the decision by telephone after days of unrest in the Gulf kingdom.

The 2011 Formula One season will now begin in Melbourne, Australia on March 27.

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The Crown Prince told the country's Information Affairs Authority Twitter site: "We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest.

Bahrain Grand Prix called off

"Bahrain's priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together to remind the world of the very best that Bahrain is capable of as a nation once again united.

"At the present time the country's entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain.

"I would like to extend my personal gratitude to Bernie Ecclestone for his support and understanding."

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in recent days to protest against the country's ruling monarchy, basing themselves at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama.

Around 10 protestors were reported to have been killed after security services attempted to clear the roundabout on Thursday. The Crown Prince said he was deeply sorry for the deaths in an interview with CNN.

There has been no announcement yet on whether the race will be held at a later date, though chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit Zayed R. Alzayani told CNN he was hopeful there would be an annoucement in a "matter of weeks."

He said: "That all depends on how the events in Bahrain going on at present turn out -- there will be a process of reconciliation launched soon and all parties will come to the table in response to his Royal Highness's efforts and things will come back to normality."

At the present time the country's entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain
-- Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, Bahrain Crown Prince

The cancellation of the race could be costly for Bahrain's economy. The 2008 grand prix was worth around $600 million in direct and indirect revenue, according to the Marcopolis website.

British newspaper The Times reported that it cost Bahrain race organizers $40 million to secure a place in this year's calendar, plus another $20 million to ensure it was the first of the season.

On top of that, the $200 million Sakhir circuit has also had a $50 million revamp since last year's race.

Mark Webber, driver for the Red Bull team, backed the cancellation. He said "I think the right decision was made, in light of what is going on, so we look forward to Melbourne instead.

"It would have been nice to go to Bahrain, but hopefully it can stage the race again. As for starting in Melbourne, it's my home race and, as always, I'm looking forward to it.

Webber's comments were echoed by Renault team boss Eric Boullier. He said: "The recent situation in Bahrain has been difficult for the country. We feel the decision taken by the Crown Prince is wise and we fully support it.

"The Bahrain Grand Prix has always been warmly welcomed with enthusiasm from the Bahraini people and we're looking forward to going back there when they have healed their country."