Tension mounts as Formula One heads to Bahrain
The Formula One circus has started to arrive in Bahrain for this weekend's controversial grand prix amid heightened security and against the backdrop of continuing rioting a few miles outside the kingdom's capital, Manama.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa was at the Bahrain International Circuit, his own creation, to inspect preparations, and the importance of the race to his kingdom's international prestige was underlined when he spoke of its "paramount economic, investment and cultural importance". Claims the race is not political were further underlined by the massive advertising internal campaign - "UniF1ed. One nation in celebration".
Teams have been given added protection as well as a list of no-go areas which Times journalist Kevin Eason said "appears to be much of the island, apart from Manama and the circuit".
"There is obviously a lot of security around the circuit and you can see the big hotels where the VIP guests will be staying have stepped up their efforts," Red Bull's John Ayers, who arrived in Bahrain last week, told Eason. "They are really on their guard. Apart from that, it is all quiet. We have not seen or heard any disturbances, although we know things go on in the villages at night."
Attempts to present a picture of tranquillity will be tested today as demonstrators continue their attempts to use the race to publicise their cause. A rally is planned for a village near the international airport as the Formula One roadshow arrives in force. On Wednesday, when the bulk of teams and media are due to land, there are plans to hold blockades on the main road from the airport.
Perhaps the biggest test will come on Thursday when for the first time this year protesters say they will hold a rally in the capital. A splinter group has called for "three days of rage" starting on Friday and aimed directly at the grand prix.
There was a further blow to claims Bahrain was returning to normal with a statement on Monday by Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. "No one should be under any illusions that the country's human rights crisis is over," he said. "The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests."