CAIRO - Egyptian police entered Al-Azhar University in Cairo on Wednesday to confront Islamist protesters, the first time security forces have moved onto a campus since a 2010 court ruling.

The police took the action at the prestigious Islamic university following a request from its administration, the interior ministry said. Students supporting deposed president Mohamed Morsi have held regular and sometimes violent protests since the beginning of the school year in September.

According to the official MENA news agency, the protesting students stormed the university’s offices on Wednesday, ransacking them and firing birdshot.

Police entered “the Al-Azhar University campus following a request from the university’s head Dr Osama al-Abd to defend lives and public property,” said the interior ministry. The police had obtained permission from the state prosecutor before doing so, the ministry it added.

A police general told AFP it was the first time police had entered a university since a 2010 court ruling banned guards belonging to the interior ministry from operating on their grounds.

Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities on Wednesday detained senior Muslim Brotherhood figure Essam al-Erian, one of the last few leaders of the Islamist movement to have escaped a security crackdown, the interior ministry said.

Security forces arrested Erian, deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, in the early hours of Wednesday at an apartment in east Cairo where he had been in hiding. Pictures of Erian circulating on social media, apparently taken during his arrest, showed him smiling and making a gesture symbolising the rejection of the military’s ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July.

Erian was moved to Tora prison, where much of the movement’s leadership is being held, and public prosecutors have begun questioning him, the official MENA news agency reported.

The Islamist leader faces charges of inciting violence on several occasions.

The search for Erian had extended to eight provinces, according to a security official quoted by MENA.

Egypt’s army-installed authorities launched a massive crackdown on Morsi’s supporters in August, violently dispersing two protest camps in Cairo and making mass arrests.

More than 1,000 people have been killed since Morsi’s ouster - mainly his supporters - and the authorities have detained some 2,000 Islamists, including most of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership.

Morsi himself has been held incommunicado in military custody since his ouster and is due to go on trial on November 4.

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The arrests have not deterred Morsi’s supporters from organising demonstrations, which have deteriorated into deadly street fights pitting them against political opponents and security forces.

Morsi’s detractors accused him of poor governance and charged the Muslim Brotherhood with trying to monopolise power following the 2011 overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

His supporters deny such allegations and point to the Muslim Brotherhood’s victories in a series of polls held after Mubarak’s overthrow.