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Bahrain's F1 race rescheduled for October

By the CNN Wire Staff
The Formula One circus will race in Bahrain in 2011 despite the early-season postponement.
The Formula One circus will race in Bahrain in 2011 despite the early-season postponement.
  • Race, scheduled to launch the F1 season, was canceled in February over unrest
  • F1 officials visited kingdom before Bahrain lifted emergency laws Wednesday
  • Motorsport's ruling body confirms the reinstatement of the grand prix
  • The Sunni royal leadership continues to crack down on Shiite opponents

(CNN) -- The Bahrain Grand Prix has been reinstated to the 2011 Formula One calendar after unrest in the Gulf kingdom forced its cancellation earlier in the year, officials announced Friday.

The race, which had been scheduled to be the opening race of the elite motorsport season on March 13, was canceled in February.

The Bahraini crown prince informed F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone of the decision by telephone after days of violent clashes. Australia subsequently hosted the opening event two weeks later than scheduled.

The race in Bahrain is now scheduled for October 28-30, meaning that the inaugural Indian Grand Prix will be shifted from that date to become the final race of the season after Brazil (November 25-27).

The Indian event will now take place on December 9-11, according to the official F1 web site.

Should F1 take the risk of racing in Bahrain?

"This is welcome news for all of Bahrain," chairman of the host circuit Zayed R. Alzayani said in a statement Friday. "As a country we have faced a difficult time, but stability has returned; with businesses operating close to normal, the State of National Safety lifted and countries removing travel restrictions.

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"Collectively, we are in the process of addressing issues of national and international concern, and learning lessons from the recent past. By the time the Grand Prix arrives we will be able to remind the world about Bahrain at its best."

Alzayani said the race "attracts 100,000 visitors, supports 3,000 jobs and generates around $500 million of economic benefit. Its positive effect will be felt throughout the country."

Ecclestone's Formula One Management and motorsport's world governing body, the FIA, confirmed the announcement on Friday.

FIA president Jean Todt and vice-president Carlos Garcia visited Bahrain on Tuesday to assess the situation, meeting government and motor racing officials as well as as other national and international organizations including the National Institute of Human Rights.

"It should be noted that the recent announcement by the King of Bahrain has established a political dialogue and reconciliation process," the FIA said in a statement on its web site.

"After considering all the factors and taking into consideration all stakeholders' concerns, the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) unanimously agreed to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix."

However, the news has been cautiously received by leading team Red Bull, which won both driver and manufacturer world titles last season and is again on top in 2011 with Sebastian Vettel a dominant force on the grid.

"Red Bull Racing has acknowledged the FIA World Motor Sport Council's decision to go ahead with the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix," the Britain-based Austrian team said in a statement.

This shows to many organizations that F1's interests have more value to them than humanity
--Bahrain activist Nabeel Rajab

"We will go through the correct channels and discuss this decision within the appropriate forum with the other F1 teams and our fellow FOTA members."

Red Bull has been targeted by activist group Avaaz, which launched an online petition asking the team and the 11 others in F1 to boycott Bahrain.

"Formula One's decision is a kick in the teeth for the Bahraini people," campaign director Alex Wilks said in quotes reported by the UK Press Association, which said former F1 world champion Damon Hill was among the 340,000-plus signatories.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights also expressed its anger at the FIA's decision, and warned that there would be further protests on the day of the race.

"They have taken the decision on the day two people were buried today: one woman who died from shock from a sound bomb, and one man who died today after being attacked in March," its president Nabeel Rajab told CNN.

"That F1 took this decision without thinking about the human rights in this country, this shows to many organizations that their interests have more value to them than humanity.

"From our side we will see how on that day we will get the whole world to know what is happening here. Already there are pages on Facebook calling it (the day of the grand prix) a Day of Rage.

"I will urge all the drivers, journalists, everyone, to stay in solidarity with us by not going to this event. This will be the sport of the oppressor's regime. A huge number of the staff of F1 Bahrain has been detained, jailed and tortured. None of this is reported."

On Wednesday, Bahrain lifted the state of emergency laws that had facilitated the restriction of political leaders and journalists, but at the same time the government continued its crackdown on the country's major Shiite political opposition movement and stifled the latest street protests.

It filed charges against four top opposition leaders in a move that could weaken the country's Al Wefaq party, according to two opposition sources. This came as King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa appealed for dialogue, saying that talks with opposition groups are scheduled to begin in July.

The lifting of the emergency laws, imposed in mid-March, is thought to be an effort to signal an end to months of civil unrest stemming from the Arab Spring, a wave of anti-government demonstrations that started in Tunisia and have since roiled several countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

But the announcement by the country's Information Affairs Authority followed one from the justice ministry the day before warning against "any type of activities that could affect the security or harm the national peace and safety."

Still, Alzayani on Friday said: "The Bahrain Grand Prix has always been a source of national pride and it is an event than transcends politics. Not only does it receive strong support from the Government, but also from all major parties in Bahrain, including our largest opposition group, Al Wefaq, who yesterday endorsed both the BIC and motor-racing in Bahrain."