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'Casualties' fear stalks Bahrain Grand Prix

SECURITY services in Bahrain should avoid using force when faced with pro-democracy protests during this weekend's Formula One Grand Prix, according to a former politician.

Anti-F1 banners were yesterday carried by protesters during a rally in Bahrain but there was no violence at Al Dair on the outskirts of the airport.

A 5,000-strong crowd was spearheaded by a group of children carrying a banner, 12 feet by four, with the words 'Our demand: Freedom. Not: Formula 1'.

It sported the F1 trademark, with the 'F' replaced by a smoking machine gun.

Another large, hand-scrawled placard also called for no F1 in the kingdom.

The protesters called for the end of the reign of King Hamad as they seek democratic reform while police maintain a watching vigil throughout the protest.

Former leading Bahraini politician Jasim Husain, an economist who represented Al-Wefaq, the primary opposition group, for five years prior to resigning in protest following last year's anti-government demonstrations, wants the authorities to show restraint.

Husain said: "It's now a challenge for the security forces who have to handle things properly. They should avoid using force. I don't see lots of protests throughout the country, especially outside the vicinity of the racing area.

"But, yes, the fear is there that we could see some casualties."


Fourteen months on from the 'Day of Rage' that resulted in the deaths of many protesters, reforms appear too slow in coming, given the publication of a report into Bahrain by Amnesty International.

The human rights organisation insists "not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown" last year.

F1's rulers have naturally been eager to distance themselves from the debate.

FIA president Jean Todt asserts his organisation "are only interested in sport, not politics", while Husain believes it's wrong that F1 is portrayed as being in support of the ruling royal family.

"We do have political issues, and F1 coming or not coming does not mean those problems will go away," Husain added. "This is not a political event and should not have political implications."