About 700 people have been arrested throughout Egypt in a crackdown against anti-government protests, security officials say.

The arrests came as police clashed with protesters in two cities following Tuesday’s unprecedented protests.

Police broke up demonstrations in central Cairo, beating protesters with batons. Demonstrators also gathered in the eastern city of Suez.

Public gatherings would no longer be tolerated, the interior ministry said.

Anyone taking to the streets against the government would be prosecuted, it added.

The BBC’s John Leyne in Cairo says the authorities are responding in familiar fashion, treating a political crisis as a security threat.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif was quoted as saying the government was committed to “freedom of expression by legitimate means”, state news agency Mena reported. Police had acted with restraint, he said.

However, Washington has called on the Egyptian government to lift its ban on demonstrations.

Protesters have been inspired by the recent uprising in Tunisia, vowing to stay on the streets until the government falls.

They have been using social networking sites to call for fresh demonstrations, but both Facebook and microblogging site Twitter appear to have been periodically blocked inside Egypt.

The government denied it was blocking the sites.

Cabinet spokesman Magdy Rady said it respected freedom of expression and “would not resort to such methods”, Reuters news agency reported.

Source: BBC