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Bahrain activists vow 'days of rage' for F1

Anti-government protesters in Bahrain are planning "days of rage" directed at this weekend's Formula One...

Sport

Anti-government protesters in Bahrain are planning "days of rage" directed at this weekend's Formula One Grand Prix, while security forces have rounded up dozens of activists in a clampdown on the opposition in the Gulf Arab nation.

Bahrain has been in turmoil since a democracy movement erupted last year after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The island state's revolution was initially crushed with the loss of dozens of lives but youths still clash daily with riot police and thousands are turning out for opposition rallies as the motor race approaches.

"Boycott F1 in Bahrain," reads a graffiti message daubed on a wall in a village outside the capital, Manama, next to a painted image of a red Ferrari race car. "You will race on the blood of martyrs."

Bahrain's ruling Al Khalifa family had to cancel last year's race because of the uprising, but its return on April 20-22 is a chance to tell the world that all is back to normal - which could work if protests and clashes are kept to Shi'ite districts and do not reach major highways or the capital.

Bernie Ecclestone, the colourful British owner of the commercial rights to Formula One, said last week the race would go ahead because all was "quiet and peaceful" in Bahrain, which paid last year's hosting fee of an estimated $40 million despite cancelling the race due to the conflict.

The Bahrain race, part of a 20-event worldwide season that has revenues of $2 billion, drew 100,000 visitors and generated an estimated half a billion dollars in spending when it was last held two years ago. Formula One, the business arm of one of the world's most watched sports, is expected to be floated on the Singapore stock exchange later this year.

Race organisers say "the security situation in Bahrain is suitable for the staging of a major sporting event". John Yates, a former senior British police officer hired by Bahrain to oversee reform of its police force, said he felt "safer than I have often felt in London".

The official Formula One website, describing the Sakhir Circuit as "first-rate", tells visitors: "As the wind picks up each evening and the early sunset takes hold, the place has a magical 'Arabian Nights' feel to it."

Amnesty International said in a report this week that dozens remained in jail after unfair military trials for their role in mass protests a year ago while action was needed to address what the human rights group called discrimination against majority Shi'ites.

"With the world's eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no one should be under any illusions that the country's human rights crisis is over," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

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