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Fear of casualties at F1 protests

A former leading Bahraini politician has said there are "fears we could see some casualties" during this weekend's Formula One grand prix.

Economist Jasim Husain represented the primary opposition group Al-Wefaq for five years before resigning in protest during anti-government demonstrations that rocked the country last year.

Husain did so, along with 17 others, in the hope of pressing the authorities to seek solutions to the conflict dividing the kingdom.

However, 14 months on from the Day of Rage that resulted in the deaths of many protesters, such reforms have been too slow in coming, according to a 58-page report into Bahrain by Amnesty International.

The human rights organisation said "not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown" last year. Given the daily clashes between police and protesters, there are concerns the latter will use F1's arrival and its global reach to ram home their message.

Although the majority demonstrate peacefully, there are groups such as the Coalition Youth of the 14 Feb Revolution who have said "three days of anger" will occur this weekend. As to the form of such anger and how closely it touches F1 given an anticipated security crackdown, that remains to be seen.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Mr Husain, insisting his views are his own and not that of Al-Wefaq, said: "I don't see lots of protests throughout the country, especially outside the vicinity of the racing area. But yes, there is this fear, the fear is there that we could see some casualties. So it's now a challenge for the security forces who have to handle things properly. They should avoid using force.

"Of course, people should be free to express their views, but the responsibility is with the authorities who have to show professionalism in managing any protest. The good thing is people are peaceful, protesters are peaceful, that violence is not really any particular part of the political challenge in the country. But things have to be handled properly by the authorities."

F1's rulers have naturally been eager to distance themselves from the political controversy. FIA president Jean Todt asserted his organisation is "only interested in sport not politics".

Husain also said it is wrong F1 is portrayed as being in support of the ruling al-Khalifa royal family, adding: "That's the problem really. It should not be presented this way. F1 is a sport, an economic positive, and I hope neither side will see the race as a political tool."

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