Three dead in attack and Islamist protests in Egypt

CAIRO (Reuters) - Three people including an army general were killed and at least 26 wounded on Friday in a drive-by shooting and violence that erupted at Islamist protests around Egypt, security sources and health officials said. Police were out in force for the demonstrations, organized by a hardline Salafi group calling for the ousting of the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the ex-army chief who led last year's overthrow of elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi. In Matariya, focal point for early afternoon protests in Cairo, a civilian was killed before security forces dispersed the gathering, security sources said. Hours before the protests, an army brigadier general was killed and two soldiers wounded when gunmen in an unmarked car opened fire in a parking lot in nearby Gesr al-Suez, they said. One of the wounded later died. The demonstrations were small. Reuters witnesses saw no more than 100 or 200 people in Matariya, the largest gathering in Cairo, at any one time. The Interior Ministry said it had thwarted 10 planned bombings and arrested 224 people nationwide as part of its crackdown on the protests. An officer was wounded by gunfire in Alexandria while four police officers were wounded by an improvised bomb in the Nile Delta town of Sharqiya. In Al-Arish, a town in largely lawless northern Sinai province, a roadside bomb wounded six policemen, security sources said. Security sources said violence also erupted in the southern town of Beni Soueif and the Delta town of Kafr Sheikh. Since the army's ousting of Mursi in July 2013, Egypt has cracked down on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters, arresting thousands and sentencing hundreds to death in mass trials that drew international criticism. Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters were killed on one day in August 2013 when security forces cleared two protest camps in one of the bloodiest episodes in Egypt's modern history. That crackdown and subsequent laws banning protests without permission have created an atmosphere of fear and dampened enthusiasm for the kind of mass rallies that helped remove President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and Mursi last year. Authorities have tried to curb radical preaching, replacing thousands of imams and controlling their Friday sermons. The Salafi Front termed its call for protests on Friday the "Uprising of Islamist Youth", alienating secular critics of Sisi and also limiting turnout. The Salafi Front said demonstrations would continue into the evening and issued a statement urging protesters to remain peaceful. (Reporting by Shadi Bushra, Ahmed Tolba and Lin Noueihed; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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