MANAMA - Formula One cars take to the track in Bahrain on Friday, with the government hoping a successful Grand Prix will draw a line under more than a year of Arab Spring protests while activists are promising to mark it with "days of rage."
On the eve of the first practice session, protests flared in villages surrounding the capital, far from the circuit where the race will be held. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse demonstrators in clashes that have been building in the week leading to Sunday's round of the World Championship.
Bahrain has been in turmoil since a democracy movement erupted last year following uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests were initially crushed with the loss of dozens of lives, but youths still clash daily with riot police in Shi'ite Muslim districts, and thousands take part in opposition rallies.
Two members of the British-based Force India team, traveling between Bahrain International Circuit and their hotel in Manama, asked to go home after seeing burning petrol bombs in what the government described as an isolated incident.