Bahrain's Formula One circuit, which is scheduled to host a Grand Prix again in April after last year's was cancelled, said on Wednesday it had reinstated employees dismissed in the 2011 civil unrest.
The move comes amid a 'national dialogue' in the Gulf state after pro-democracy protests and continuing calls from campaigners for the glamour sport, whose teams are mostly British-based, to stay away.
"The reinstatement of our BIC (Bahrain International Circuit) colleagues is part of an important initiative towards national reconciliation and unity for the kingdom as a whole," said circuit chief executive Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al-Khalifa in a statement.
"I therefore welcome back our colleagues into the BIC family as we now look to focus on the future and the important job at hand.
"The Bahrain International Circuit, and in particular the Formula One Grand Prix, is of huge significance to our country, acting as a strong unifier, given the support it receives from all sections of Bahrain society," he added.
The statement said the circuit had contacted the relevant staff and hoped they would return as soon as possible. However, it did not say whether all had accepted their jobs back.
A number of circuit employees were dismissed after being deemed to be in breach of their contracts during the protests in February and March last year.
Thousands of mainly Shi'ite Bahrainis took to the streets then demanding curbs on the power of the ruling Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family and an end to perceived discrimination.
At least 35 people, including five members of the security forces, were killed in the unrest.
The Grand Prix, which would have been last year's season-opener, was postponed and then finally cancelled due to the situation and the reluctance of teams, despite Bahrain's considerable investment in the sport.
Bahrain's sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat are major shareholders in McLaren.
The race has been reinstated on the 2012 calendar for April 22, as the fourth round of 20, and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone is keen for it to go ahead.
"I hope we go to Bahrain and there's no trouble, the race goes on, the public are happy and there are no dramas," he said last month.
Right groups have however been urging Formula One not to return to Bahrain.
"We will campaign for... drivers and teams to boycott. The government wants Formula One to tell the outside world that everything is back to normal," Nabeel Rajab, vice-president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said.
"Formula One, if they come, they are helping the government to say (it is normal). We would prefer it if they didn't take part. I am sure the drivers and teams respect human rights."
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|William A. Cook|