Man's death adds to criticism of Formula One's Bahrain Grand Prix


Pressure on the Formula One authorities continued to build today as a man was found dead following clashes with police in Bahrain.

It has been claimed that Salah Habib Abbas, 37, was killed by shotgun pellets fired by riot police after a raid last night on the outskirts of the capital Manama.

But Jean Todt, president of the sport's governing body the FIA, was adamant his conscience was clear and the reputation of Formula One remained intact.

Around 50,000 anti-government protesters gathered in the city, just 25 miles away from where the controversial grand prix meeting is under way.

Petrol bombs were hurled at security officials and anti-grand prix graffiti was daubed on walls, before the throngs of protesters were dispersed with rounds of tear gas and pepper spray.

Activists are demanding democracy and the cancellation of the race.

A car carrying four personnel from racing team Force India was caught up in a petrol bomb incident on Wednesday night as it made its way back from the Bahrain International Circuit.

None of the four were injured but two team members, one of whom was involved in the incident, have since flow home due to fears over safety.

However, defiant F1 bosses are refusing to scrap the three-day event despite months of political unrest and the regime's crackdown on demonstrators.

Mr Todt said: "I am sorry about what has been reported. I am not sure all that has been reported corresponds to the reality of what is happening in this country.

"But I feel F1 is very strong. It is a very strong brand, and all the people among the teams to whom I have been speaking are very happy."

He insisted he was comfortable with the decision to remain in Bahrain.

"To say there has not been some controversy around what has happened in Bahrain would be wrong from my side. Yes, there are certain problems. Yes there are some protests - because it is a democratic country and protests are allowed," he said.

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa claimed that cancelling the race would "empower extremists".

He added: "For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build bridges across communities, to get people working together. It allows us to celebrate our nation.

"It is an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive."

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had earlier insisted it was down to the Bahrainis to cancel their grand prix.

On the track German Sebastian Vettel secured pole position for tomorrow's race after grabbing top spot in qualifying. Lewis Hamilton was forced to settle for second, with Mark Webber and Jenson Button on the second row in third and fourth respectively.

In Britain, David Cameron resisted pressure to call for the cancellation of the event yesterday, insisting it was a matter for the F1 authorities whether the race should go ahead.

It came after Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper added their voices to demands for the event to be called off.

Mr Miliband said proceeding would send out the wrong signal at a time of protests over human rights abuses in the Gulf kingdom, while Ms Cooper said British drivers should not take part.

The Prime Minster said there was "a process of reform under way in Bahrain", and added: "This Government backs that reform and wants to help promote that reform."

Around 20 people staged a demonstration outside the Formula One office in Knightsbridge, central London.

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell attended the pr

He said: "I would appeal to Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to withdraw from the Bahrain grand prix. By participating, they'll be giving respectability to the regime. They'll be sending out the message that it's business as usual."

Amnesty International said human rights violations are continuing in the Gulf kingdom despite government promises that the country is on the road to reform.

In a recent report, the campaign group said security forces were still using excessive and unnecessary force against anti-government protesters.

The 2011 race was cancelled as international criticism grew over the bloodshed and the Foreign Office has advised British motor racing fans against travelling to this year's event.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "I spoke to the foreign minister of Bahrain today to express our concern about the violence in Bahrain, to call for restraint in dealing with protests including during the Formula One race and to urge further progress in implementing political reforms.

"The British Government supports the reforms already under way in Bahrain and we want to help promote that reform.

"In particular, we encourage the Bahraini government to take further urgent steps to implement in full the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Inquiry. This includes bringing to account those individuals responsible for human rights abuses.

"We also call for the release of prisoners sentenced by the military court and urge all sides to restrain from violence and to enter into an inclusive and constructive political dialogue to achieve long term stability for Bahrain."

Meanwhile Mercedes and McLaren team bosses Ross Brawn and Martin Whitmarsh have criticised British politicians for what they believe is a belated stance on the grand prix.

Mr Brawn said: "I find it very frustrating that politicians in the UK were saying we should withdraw once we got here. Why didn't they say anything beforehand?"

He went on: "For somebody to try and make Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton determine the foreign policy of the country is wrong."

Mr Whitmarsh said: "I don't think it's helpful to wake up this morning and hear we shouldn't be here when we are already here, so I endorse what Ross says."

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