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JANUARY 4, 2008

Terrorists force cancellation of Dakar Rally

The world of motorsport rarely pays much heed to the real world but the announcement from Paris today that the Dakar Rally has been cancelled due to a direct security threat from terrorist organisations indicates that the sport must take such threats seriously.

The Amaury Sport Organisation, which organises the event, said the the cancellation of the race was the result of "direct threats against the race issued by terrorist groups". It follows the murder of four French tourists in Mauritania on December 24.

The 30th Dakar Rally was due to run from Lisbon to Portimao in the Algarve before heading east to the port of Malaga, in Spain and talking an overnight ferry to Nador in Morocco, where the African stages of the raid were to begin on the morning of January 7. The competitors were then due to spend three and a half days in the deserts and mountains of eastern Morocco before passing through the troubled Western Sahara in 24 hours to arrive in Mauritania, which recently held its first democratic election in nearly 50 years after a coup d'etat in 2005 toppled Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's 21-year regime. The Rally was then due to cross into Senegal on January 19, prior to the final day in Senegal. With much of the rally due to take place in Mauritania the organisers say they had no choice but to cancel the race.

The Dakar has run uninterrupted since 1979 and includes trucks and cars as well as the hundreds of motorbikes. Although individual stages have been cancelled in the past this is the first time the whole event has been cancelled.