Tens of thousands of people mounted anti-government protests here Friday, the first day of practice laps for this weekend's Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix.

A number of people were hurt in clashes with the police when marchers led by the opposition Feb. 14 Coalition tried to enter the main highway linking the capital with the Bahrain International Circuit, the venue for Sunday's race.

Meanwhile, protesters occupied more than 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) of the Budaiya highway, denouncing the holding of the GP and demanding the release of political prisoners.

Bahrainis took to the streets in February 2011, amid the Arab Spring, to demand political and economic reforms in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom, where a Sunni Muslim royal family rules over a population that is largely Shia.

The 2011 edition of the Grand Prix was cancelled after the government forcibly ejected protesters from Manama's Pearl Roundabout, igniting disturbances that left more than 50 people dead.

Since then, the Bahraini authorities have arrested hundreds and had thousands more fired from their jobs.

The 2012 Grand Prix was held under tight security.

The Feb. 14 Coalition and other activists are asking Formula One Management to cancel the 2013 race in light of the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain.

FOM and motorsports' world governing body, the FIA, issued a joint statement Friday calling for the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix to go ahead as planned. EFE