F1 qualifying underway as armoured vehicles line streets

Armoured vehicles have been deployed onto the streets of the Bahraini capital Manama following another night of clashes between police and protestors.

Armoured vehicles have been deployed onto the streets of the Bahraini capital Manama following another night of clashes between police and protestors.

With qualifying in the Bahrain Grand Prix underway, race organisers and the kingdom's rulers insist it is right the race should go ahead.

Pro-democracy campaigners are set to intensify demonstrations in Bahrain today following a day of violent clashes with riot police in the Gulf state.

Around 50,000 anti-government protesters gathered in the capital yesterday as Formula One stars took to the track of The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) just 25 miles away.

Petrol bombs were hurled at security officials and anti-grand prix graffiti was daubed on walls, before the throngs of protesters were dispersed with rounds of tear gas and pepper spray.

Activists billed yesterday as the first of “three days of rage” against Bahrain’s rulers with thousands more expected on the streets today demanding democracy and the cancellation of the controversial motorsport event.

However, defiant F1 organisers bosses are refusing to scrap the three-day event despite months of political unrest and the regime’s crackdown on demonstrators.

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa said that cancelling the race would “empower extremists”.

“For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build bridges across communities, to get people working together,” he added.

“It allows us to celebrate our nation. It is an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive.”

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had earlier insisted it was down to the Bahrainis to cancel their grand prix.

Meanwhile, the sport came under attack from cyber anarchists with internet hacking organisation Anonymous announcing they would turn the formula1.com website into “a smoking crater in cyberspace”.

The denial-of-service attack, under the title of ’Operation Bahrain’ after watching what they perceive as “the incredible human rights abuses of the Bahrain regime”, was unleashed shortly after Crown Prince Salman’s comments.

Violence has been intensifying in Bahrain ahead of the grand prix.

A car carrying four personnel from racing team Force India was caught up in a petrol bomb incident on Wednesday night as it made its way back from the BIC.

None of the four were injured, but two team members – one of whom was involved in the incident – have since flow home due to fears over safety.

Amnesty International said human rights violations are continuing in the Gulf kingdom despite government promises that the country is on the road to reform.

In a recent report, the campaign group said security forces were still using excessive and unnecessary force against anti-government protesters.

The charity also said it was receiving ongoing reports of the torture and ill-treatment of demonstrators, who have been involved in ongoing clashes with police.

The 2011 race was cancelled as international criticism grew over the bloodshed.

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