Clashes erupt in Bahrain during Formula 1 Grand Prix

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Anti-government protesters in Bahrain clashed with security forces as the Formula 1 Grand Prix was underway on Sunday.

Rioters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, used fire extinguishers to blast nails at security forces, and blocked roads with burning tires.

They also used hot-air balloons in a bid to disrupt civil aviation, according to reports.

While Bahrain’s rulers can breathe a sigh of relief that the race took place largely unhindered by anti-government protests, villages beyond the well-protected Grand Prix bubble pose a stubborn challenge to stability.

The island’s Shiite Muslims staged rallies in the hope of grabbing media attention to their demands for equality in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

The government seems to have learned from last year’s race, calibrating the security response to the protests to avoid fatalities. The death of a protester last year injected energy into the demonstrations.

The government also used public relations to greater effect, and avoided trying to use the race to talk up the political-reform process.

“Last year, they tried to use the race to demonstrate everything was normal in Bahrain,” Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow at Chatham House, told Reuters.

“It was pretty obvious the country wasn’t unified,” she added, referring to the “UniF1ed” slogan.

The race was cancelled in 2011 after the start of bloody protests.

The public-relations battle between the government and opposition appeared to end in stalemate this year, reflecting a broader sense of political stagnation among the opposition.

Undeterred by its internal unrest, Bahrain hopes to host the race in 2014.

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