MOTOR-RACING-BAHRAIN:Bahrain hunger striker's wife criticises Ecclestone
By Alan Baldwin
MANAMA (Reuters) - 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 petrol bombs.
"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 happy."
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 kingdom.
"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 around Manama.
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 demonstrations.
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 Osmond)