- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PARIS (AP) - The ruling body of motor sports is confident the anti-government protests in Bahrain will not prevent the running of next month’s season-opening race in Formula One.

Two people died this week after security forces battled protesters who are calling for political reform and greater freedom.

“There are realities on the ground that we need to accept,” FIA spokesman Norman Howell told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“Any big sporting event is always potentially a focus for protests in any situation,” he added. “But the FIA is fully confident, with the Bahrain motor federation, that the situation will be resolved amicably.”

The race is March 13, with F1 workers due in Bahrain 10 days earlier.

“There is a GP2 race going on right now and there is also FIA personnel there,” Howell said. “Obviously, the FIA has been in touch with the authorities there, the sporting authorities from the circuit. We’re in close touch with everything that’s happening there.”

Thousands of protesters poured into a main square in Bahrain’s capital Tuesday in an Egypt-style rebellion that sharply escalated pressure on authorities. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa made a rare national TV address, offering condolences for the deaths, pledging an investigation into the killings and promising to push ahead with reforms.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said in an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that protesters could gain global attention by “making a problem on the start grid.” Ecclestone’s comments came after Nabeel Rajab, the vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, spoke of his fears the race could be targeted.

Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, chief executive officer of the Bahrain International Circuit, said security remains of paramount concern.

“The safety of all Bahraini nationals, expats and overseas visitors is a priority at all times in the Kingdom,” he said. “At the Bahrain International Circuit, our focus at the present time is on delivering another successful event.”