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Bahrain reinstated, India to end season

By Elena Gyldenkerne

BARCELONA (Reuters) - The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, postponed in March due to violent civil unrest, will go ahead on October 30 with India moving to the end of the season, the sport's governing FIA said Friday.

No date was set for the inaugural Indian race, which was originally scheduled for October 30, but it is most likely to be Dec 11 -- which would be the latest finish to a championship since 1963.

The season was due to end in Brazil on November 27.

"After considering all the factors and taking into consideration all stakeholders' concerns, the WMSC (world motor sport council) unanimously agreed to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix in the 2011 FIA Formula One World Championship," an International Automobile Federation statement said.

"The WMSC feels that reinstating the Grand Prix is a means of helping to unite people as the country looks to move forward."

The decision was highly controversial, with human rights campaigners calling for the Bahrain race to be called off entirely and the teams unhappy about the season extending well into December.

The teams' association FOTA said in a statement that they acknowledged the decision taken, while indicating also that the matter was far from closed.

"That decision is likely to be discussed internally within FOTA, and a more detailed joint position may be defined after those discussions have taken place," it said.

The FIA meeting in Barcelona followed a visit by Spanish FIA vice-president Carlos Gracia to the Gulf kingdom this week to assess the situation and meet officials and international organizations.

The country lifted a state of emergency this week after 11 weeks of martial law, with troops from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates arriving in March to help quell protests mostly by majority Shi'ites.

PROTEST PETITION

Bahrain International Circuit head Zayed R Alzayani thanked the governing body and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who had told Reuters television before the meeting that the decision would be nothing to do with money, for their support.

"As a country we have faced a difficult time but stability has returned; with businesses operating close to normal, the State of National Safety lifted and countries removing travel restrictions," he said.

"Collectively, we are in the process of addressing issues of national and international concern, and learning lessons from the recent past. By the time the Grand Prix arrives we will be able to remind the world about Bahrain at its best.

"The Bahrain Grand Prix has always been a source of national pride and it is an event than transcends politics," continued Alzayani.

"Importantly, it will also offer a significant boost to the economy. The Grand Prix attracts 100,000 visitors, supports 3,000 jobs and generates around $500m of economic benefit. Its positive effect will be felt throughout the country."

The reinstatement will also be beneficial to Formula One's coffers, with Bahrain's fee to host the race estimated at $40 million this year.

KICK IN TEETH

Bahrain's main opposition group Wefaq had said earlier that it supported the Formula One race being reinstated on the calendar to help the country politically and economically.

However, the global campaigning organization Avvaz, who had organized an online petition signed by more than 320,000 people, condemned the FIA decision and called on the teams to take a stand.

"Formula One's decision is a kick in the teeth for the Bahraini people," said campaign director Alex Wilks.

"The race will happen in a country where government troops continue to shoot and arrest peaceful protesters.

"Money has trumped human rights and good judgment, so now F1, plus Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, and every other team will be directly linked with a bloody crackdown that's ruined the lives of hundreds of innocent people."

The Indian Grand Prix date change means that race will now be combined with the FIA's annual general assembly and prize giving due in New Delhi from December 6-8.

Vicky Chandhok, president of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, said the country was "more than happy" to accommodate Bahrain.

"It's good for us as well. People fight to host the last Grand Prix and we got it on a platter. Let's hope the championship fight goes down to the wire and is decided in Delhi," he added.

That looks unlikely to happen, however, with Red Bull's world champion Sebastian Vettel already the runaway leader with five wins in six races this season.

(Writing and additional reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Kevin Fylan and Pritha Sarkar; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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