| MANAMA, April 18
MANAMA, April 18 The wife of a jailed Bahraini
activist on hunger strike has accused Formula One supremo Bernie
Ecclestone of ignoring her husband's plight ahead of Sunday's
controversial grand prix in the troubled country.
Pausing occasionally to wipe away tears and gather
composure, Khadija al-Mousawi told Reuters in an interview in
her apartment outside Manama on Wednesday that she supported
Bahrain having the race.
However, she said the 81-year-old F1 boss had missed a
chance to do something to help the pro-democracy movement and
her husband Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.
Bahrain has been in turmoil since a democracy movement
erupted last year, and was crushed initially with the loss of
dozens of lives. Al-Khawaja, who also has Danish citizenship,
was jailed for his role in leading the protests.
He has been on hunger strike for two months and is in
hospital being fed intravenously while there are almost daily
clashes between police firing tear gas and protesters armed with
"I am not angry with the government...it's their future at
stake. What makes me angry is people like Ecclestone who decides
to come to Bahrain because he thinks everyone is happy," said
al-Mousawi, one of whose daughters was at a large protest in
Manama later in the evening.
"I can assure you that I am not happy. My family is not
Ecclestone told reporters in China last week, when the
governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) confirmed
the race was on, that all the teams were happy to go to the Gulf
"There's nothing happening," he added. "I know people who
live there and it's all very quiet and peaceful."
The grand prix has been presented by the country's rulers as
a force to unify the nation, with the slogan "UniF1ed, one
nation in celebration" to be seen on banners and hoardings
Chequered flags alternate with the red and white of Bahrain
on roundabouts and junctions. On the surface, daily life appears
normal with a low-key police presence even on the approach roads
to the Sakhir circuit.
"I think Formula One is a great thing to happen to Bahrain,"
said al-Mousawi. "It makes Bahrain very well known throughout
the world and this makes us happy...my daughter Maryam was one
of the people who always insisted on going to the race.
"But I think at the same time, Formula One should help
Bahraini people to get their rights. I know they would say this
is not our job, we are only car racers. Yes. You are car racers
with democracy in your countries and with freedom," she added.
"I think if Ecclestone had said that he would come if
Abdulhadi is freed - he knows about him. He knows about his
hunger strike - I think there would have been a chance that he
would be free. But ignoring the matter completely while the
whole world is talking about this, it makes me sad."
Formula One teams and drivers who have arrived in Bahrain
have avoided talking about the political situation, with their
pre-race previews focusing entirely on sporting matters, and
have kept a low profile.
Reporters more used to watching cars going around in circles
have instead being writing about street clashes and
Bahrain Circuit chairman Zayed Al Zayani, who has assured
teams that they will be safe, told Reuters that the sport was
right to avoid making any political statements.
"We don't want it to be a political event," he said. "This
is a social event, a sporting event.
"Nobody has said there aren't problems but are the teams
going to solve the political issues of Bahrain? Is it for the
teams to go and fix countries around the world?"
"Why are we worried here about a couple of thousand or
hundred who go out and protest and then go home. Or 20 of them
decide to throw Molotov bombs. Why is it such a big deal?"
(Additional reporting by Warda Al-Jawahiry, editing by Ed