Egypt: four killed as Islamists clash with police

Police and military forces boost presence in Cairo and other cities

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Four people, including two soldiers, were killed in the Egyptian capital on Friday as hardline Islamists staged protests against the government, prompting the police and military forces to boost their presence in Cairo and other cities.

Two protesters were killed in the Mataraia, a heavily populated suburb of the capital, security forces said. In central Cairo, a sound bomb was detonated in central Cairo's Abdel Monem Riyad Square, Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

Earlier two soldiers, including an army brigadier general, were shot dead by unknown gunmen in the Cairo district of Gesr al-Suez.

The officer was killed and two others were injured when the assailants, who were driving a vehicle without license plates, opened fire in a parking garage before fleeing the scene, the state news agency MENA said, citing an army statement.

The identity of the assailants was not clear, but militants have killed scores of policemen and soldiers since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohammad Mursi in July last year.

Friday’s protests were called by the little-known Salafi Front, part of a group of Islamists who oppose the army's overthrow of president Mohammad Mursi last year.

Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement, which has been blacklisted, endorsed the protests without saying whether its harried activists would take part.

Egyptian army deployed tanks and armored vehicles to restrict access to Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Special military forces and anti-riot police were also deployed in several cities, Al Arabiya correspondent said.

Commander of the Central Military Zone Maj. Gen. Tawhid Tawfiq visited Tahrir on Thursday evening to oversee preparation to secure the square.

Islamists have called on their followers to carry copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, during the protests. The tactic is seen as a way to portray potential attacks by security forces as attacks against Islam and its sacred text.

But the Interior Ministry said it has prepared special security units to deal with such new kind of protests.

The ministry also announced that it broke up a “terrorist” cell associated with the Muslim Brotherhood that was planning to spread nationwide unrest on Friday.

It said the group members were planning to disguise in military uniforms for conducting terror operations.

The Islamists’ call for nationwide rallies Friday is the first attempt in months to hold large protests in the face of an overwhelming crackdown. It remains uncertain whether they will succeed in pulling large numbers into the streets.

Many Egyptians say they are canceling social gatherings, avoiding public transportation and remaining home Friday, fearing that bombings or other attacks could take place, according to the Associated Press.

The country's powerful army on Thursday took charge of protecting vital state installations following an order to this end last month by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

This comes as the cabinet approved on Wednesday a draft anti-terrorism law that would give the government blanket power to ban groups on charges ranging from harming national unity to disrupting public order.

The government already has broad security powers and has been able to exercise them largely at will - jailing thousands of Mursi supporters and more recently many leading lights of the 2011 uprising - because of many Egyptians' weariness with lawlessness that crippled the economy after Mubarak's fall.

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