CAIRO (Reuters) - Three people including an army general were killed and at least 20 were wounded on Friday in a drive-by shooting and clashes that erupted during Islamist protests around Egypt, security sources and health officials said.
Police were out in force in anticipation of the protests, 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, one 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.
Apart from sporadic outbursts of violence, the gatherings were poorly attended, especially compared to the millions-strong rallies that led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Reuters witnesses put the number in Matariya, the largest gathering in Cairo, at no more than 100. An Interior Ministry statement said they totaled about 400 through the whole event, with 50 more gathering in Ain Shams.
It later 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.
Security sources said violence also erupted in the southern town of Beni Soueif and in 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 mass rallies that helped remove two presidents in three years in Egypt.
Egypt has also sought 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 Alison Williams)