Bernie Ecclestone 'more hopeful' of Bahrain Grand Prix going ahead

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The Independent Online

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone said today he was more optimistic about next month's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix going ahead as planned despite bloody protests in the country.

A day after telling Reuters that the March 13 race would probably have to be cancelled if the situation in Manama had not improved by Wednesday, the 80-year-old Briton sounded more upbeat.

"I spoke to our people that are there...They say it's quiet, no big problems. Now, they're there. I don't know if I was there and you were there that we would say there are problems but that's what our people have said," he told BBC radio.

"I'm more hopeful today than I was yesterday."

Ecclestone was speaking before reports on Friday of more shots being fired in the area of Manama's Pearl Square.

Ecclestone said it was not for Formula One to run the country and side-stepped questions about whether the sport should contemplate going to a country where protests for democratic change were met with bullets.

"It seems as if people thought it was democratic a few weeks ago," he declared.

"We have never, ever, ever been involved in religion and politics. We don't make decisions based on those things.

"I hope we don't have to do anything and can carry on as normal."

Four protesters were killed and 231 wounded when riot police drove activists from a makeshift camp in Bahrain's capital Manama on Thursday. Dozens were detained.

Several thousand mourners turned out for funerals of three of those killed on Friday in what the island's top Shi'ite cleric called a 'massacre' ordered by the Sunni ruling family to crush street protests.

Races scheduled for the Sakhir circuit this weekend were cancelled on Thursday and Ecclestone said he would make a decision about the March 13 season-opener on Tuesday or Wednesday.

"We pulled the GP2 race, it's the Asian series so it's not terribly important," he said. "We don't want to take any chances. Yesterday we decided to do that. Probably today, if we had to make the same decision on the information I've got, we probably wouldn't do that." "Let's hope this all just blows away," he said. "In these parts there have always been skirmishes. This is perhaps a bit more than that."