Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone insists this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead as planned, despite a series of small explosions taking place in the troubled country.
The February 14 Youth Coalition, an underground youth movement, have embarked on a week-long campaign entitled ‘volcanic flames’, which concluded with a gas canister blowing up inside a stolen car in the financial district. No injuries were reported.
And internet hacking organisation Anonymous have also vowed to disrupt proceedings, demanding that the “blood race” should be cancelled.
But a defiant Ecclestone told the AFP news agency: “There’s no reason why [the race] shouldn’t be [a success].”
Asked about the demonstrations, he said: “What’s happened? They’re demonstrating now? I didn’t know that. There’s nobody demonstrating.”
The 82-year-old was also unconcerned about a report from Human Rights Watch that police in the Gulf state have been rounding up pro-democracy activists in the run-up to the grand prix. “No, they have their own politics and they are discussing this, I believe,” Ecclestone added.
Anonymous posted a message that claimed: “Bernie Ecclestone and the ‘Royal Family’ of Bahrain have learned nothing. So we are coming forward this year to wreck your little party again Mr Ecclestone.
“Anonymous will not stand by and allow you a race fuelled by the blood of our freedom-loving comrades in Bahrain. Once the festivities for this race begin in Bahrain, all bets are off.
“We call upon Bernie Ecclestone while there is still time – cancel your blood race now”
The Bahrain authorities have promised “appropriate security measures” for the grand prix. “The security situation is very reassuring,” a government spokeswoman told state news agency BNA. She added that Bahrain “will ensure appropriate security measures are taken during the F1 race and will take enough measures, as in all other countries which host such international sporting events”.
Protests have been a part of the background to the race since its inception in 2004. They have varied from bins being set on fire on wasteground to full-blown confrontations with security forces.
But after the Arab Spring of 2011, the violence escalated amid reports of arrests and human rights violations that outraged the western world, and continuing riots that year led to the race’s cancellation. That year’s grand prix was postponed and later cancelled after month-long pro-democracy protests were crushed.
And the protest groups have said that they will use the race to highlight what they say are injustices still being committed against them.
Last year’s race went ahead after Ecclestone and governing body, the FIA, said they had been assured the kingdom was safe for F1 personnel.
Before the race, Force India mechanics were caught up in an incident in which a petrol bomb bounced off the roof of their car as protesters battled with police on the main road from the circuit into the capital, Manama.