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Bahrain wins back F1, protests simmer
Racing body has reinstated Grand Prix; Daily clashes as police put down small Shi'ite protests
June 4, 2011 3:48 by Reuters
Bahrain scored a public relations coup on Friday by winning back its Formula One Grand Prix, cancelled earlier this year after pro-democracy protests erupted in the Gulf Arab island kingdom.
Majority Shi’ites demanding political reforms continued to stage protests on Friday, two days after the lifting of emergency rule that the country’s minority Sunni rulers hope will bring back tourism and commerce after months of turmoil.
“Congratulations — we got it!” Fayyad, an employee of a private airline, shouted in a cafe in Manama when news began to buzz in social media that a motor racing council meeting in Barcelona had agreed to reinstate the race later this year.
In February, Bahrain cancelled the Formula One season’s opening race after clashes between security forces and protesters camped out in their thousands at Pearl Roundabout.
Despite calls by human rights groups against reinstating the race, a source told Reuters that the vote for Bahrain had been unanimous. The race is now scheduled for Oct. 30.
“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,” said Bahrain International Circuit head Zayed R Alzayani.
“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 would attract 100,000 visitors, support 3,000 jobs and deliver a $500 million economic boost.
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Martial law was imposed in March after the government invited Saudi and UAE troops to help break up the protest movement.
US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Bahraini rights activists had campaigned against reinstating the race in Bahrain, arguing that a heavy crackdown on the protesters during 11 weeks of emergency law should weigh in the decision.
Though the main opposition group Wefaq said it supported the government’s efforts to get back Formula One, many ordinary people in Shi’ite villages said they opposed it.
This week, the king offered a new dialogue on reform with all sides to begin July. He did not spell out the parameters of the talks but Wefaq and other opposition groups welcomed it.
(By Andrew Hammond; Additional reporting by Hamad Mohammed; Editing by Reed Stevenson and Lin Noueihed)