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Trouble for F1 in Bahrain? UPDATE #6 This rumor is upgraded to 'strong' today.  Formula 1 is going to have to start worrying about its season-opening race if the situation in Bahrain continues to deteriorate. The latest reports from Manama say that the thousands of protesters who were gathered at the Pearl Roundabout have been attacked by the security forces. The reports, from the opposition, say that 50 army vehicles moved into the square and attacked the crowds. There have been reports in recent hours of further deaths and there are now reports (and photographs) of Saudi Arabian troops moving across the King Fahd Causeway in order to help support the Bahrain government. If this is confirmed it is very bad news. The reports have been denied by the authorities, saying that these are simply rumors to stir up more trouble. Joe Saward

02/16/11 The nation's majority Shiites — about 70 percent of the population of some 500,000_ have long complained of discrimination and being blackballed from important state jobs.

Many in the square waved Bahraini flags and chanted: "No Sunnis, no Shiites. We are all Bahrainis." It also appeared they were planning for the long haul. Some groups carried in tents and sought generators to set up under a nearly 300-foot (90-meter) monument cradling a giant white pearl-shaped ball that symbolizes the country's heritage as a pearl diving center.

Bahrain is one of the most politically volatile nations in the Middle East's wealthiest corner despite having one of the few elected parliaments and some of the most robust civil society groups. A crackdown on perceived dissent last year touched off weeks of riots and clashes in Shiite villages, and an ongoing trial in Bahrain accuses 25 Shiites of plotting against the country's leadership.

A prolonged showdown could draw in the region's two biggest rivals: Saudi Arabia, as close allies of Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, and Iran, whose hard-liners have spoken in support of the nation's Shiite majority.

02/15/11 The organizers of the Bahrain Grand Prix have moved to reassure visitors to the track ahead of next month’s F1 test session and race. The events have been targeted by anti-government protesters.

Circuit CEO Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, said: “The safety of all Bahraini nationals, expats and overseas visitors is a priority at all times in the Kingdom and, at the Bahrain International Circuit, our focus at the present time is on delivering another successful event in the form of the 2011 Gulf Air Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“We are monitoring the situation very closely indeed in association with the relevant authorities, and will respond appropriately to any further developments.”

02/15/11 (GMM)  Less than a month before the 2011 season is scheduled to begin, the host nation of the championship opener is in turmoil.

Inspired by recent anti-government revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain are clashing with riot police armed with tear gas and batons, and three people have reportedly already been killed.

"For sure F1 is not going to be peaceful this time," said Nabeel Rajab, vice president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights, according to Arabian Business. zzzz

"There'll be lots of journalists, a lot of people looking and (the government) will react in a stupid manner as they did today and yesterday.  And that will be bloody but will be more publicized," he added.

Rajab said he doubted the current protests will be short lived.

"This will not stop, especially now when people died.  I don't think it's going to stop easily," he said.

02/14/11 Bahrain Riot Police Use Tear Gas as Protesters Demand More Freedom, Jobs

Bloomberg Article
Financial Times Article
LA Times Article

Tear gas fired at anti-government protesters in Bahrain

MSNBC Article

02/14/11 Here is a video from Bahrain showing the unrest:

02/14/11 The recent unrest in the Arab world, which led to the departure of President Ben Ali in Tunisia, and the departure on Friday of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak following 18 days of protests challenging his authority, may cause some problems for the Formula 1 world in the weeks ahead.

The troubles, which kicked off in Tunisia, have spread around the region with protesters trying to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, fears that Algeria may be heading the same direction after demonstrations over the weekend which featured placards calling for the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and further protests being planned for February 19, while the Palestinian Authority has just announced long overdue elections, in the hope of warding off similar trouble.

None of this matters much to the Formula 1 community, who read about it in their newspapers each morning – if indeed they bother to do that. However, things may get more difficult in the weeks ahead as there could be trouble today in authoritarian Iran and in Bahrain.

There has been evidence of an undercurrent of discontent in Bahrain since F1?s first visit, with occasional flare-ups in the Sanabis district, in the outskirts of Manama, being witnessed firsthand by some of those in the F1 community. The authorities naturally like to play these down. Earlier today, however, the security forces were reportedly firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse anti-government protesters as tensions rose on the island as preparations were made for what protesters have called a “day of rage” against the current system. Bahrain is a strategic Western ally and home to the US 5th Fleet. The protests due today are to mark the anniversary of the country’s 2002 constitution that brought pro-democracy reforms. The protesters want more change. This is partly due to the strong hold the ruling family has over the government and partly because Shiites make up about 70 percent of the population, although the ruling minority is Sunni. In the last few days the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has sent a public letter to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, asking for reforms which would include the release of jailed activists and the prosecution of state officials for abuses.

I include the following video, with no particular comment except that these things are not being invented.

Formula 1 teams are due to go to Bahrain from March 3-6 for the final pre-season test. They will then leave their equipment at the Sakhir circuit in the run-up to the season-opening Grand Prix on March 11-13.

The GP2 circus is heading there from Abu Dhabi for the second round of the GP2 Asia Series, which will take place at the Sakhir Circuit from February 17-19. Joe Seward’s Grand Prix Blog
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