CAIRO // Egypt's military yesterday shipped in troop reinforcements and extra supplies of armour to bases near Egyptian cities ahead of Sunday's protests, planned by the opposition to force the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, out of office.
The announcement of the additional military presence came amid heavy speculation over the army's role in the crisis, the severity of which was demonstrated north of Cairo yesterday during fighting between supporters and opponents of Mr Morsi.
With Egypt gripped by fears of a showdown between Islamists and their opponents, security sources said two people were killed and 90 injured in the city of Mansoura when hundreds of men were involved in street battles.
There was also fighting in the nearby Nile Delta city of Tanta.
The presidency said the military had been coordinating closely with Mr Morsi's government in the run-up to the protests, but activists said they were looking to the army for protection from hardline government supporters.
Some Islamists accuse activists of paving the ground for a coup, a charge the opposition vehemently denies.
Officials said the deployments were restricted to the outskirts of major cities and inside existing military facilities.
In Cairo, the focus of Sunday's protests, the extra troops went to major bases to the east and west of the city of about 18 million people.
The protests mark the end of Mr Morsi's first year in office.
On Sunday, Gen Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, the army chief who is also the defence minister, gave Mr Morsi and the opposition a week to reach an understanding to prevent bloodshed. There has been no sign of compromise by either side.
Gen Al Sisi also warned that the military would intervene to stop the nation from entering a "dark tunnel".
Mr Morsi, who addressed the nation yesterday, has sought to project the impression of business-as-usual since Gen Al Sisi's comments on Sunday.
He has discussed with cabinet ministers fuel shortages and power cuts, and urged others to ensure that basic goods were available ahead of the start of Ramadan.
However, the build-up to the protests comes as the country is paralysed by an acute shortage of fuel that has created massive traffic jams caused by long lines outside gas stations. Egyptians have also been angered by a steep rise in prices that has been caused in part by the sliding value of the Egyptian pound against the US dollar.
Cabinet ministers blamed the fuel shortage on corruption, rumours and hoarding by a public that is nervous about the protests.
Mr Morsi's opponents calculate they can force him out through the sheer number of people they bring into the streets on Sunday, building on widespread discontent with his running of the country, plus the added weight of the army's declaration that it will protect them against attacks.
His backers say the mainly liberal and secular political opposition is planning a coup to remove an elected leader because they cannot compete at the ballot box.
Meanwhile, security forces have detained an Shiite activist for possessing of illegal weapons two days after Shiites were killed during an attack by Sunnis in a town near Cairo, a prosecution source said yesterday.
Mohamed El Dereiny was found with two machine guns and detained by security forces on Tuesday. He will be held for four days, pending an investigation, the source added.
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Reuters