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Italy pressed on arms sale to Egypt amid torture-murder case

ROME (AP) — Italian lawmakers pressed Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte late Thursday over the planned sale of two frigates to Egypt even though Cairo has refused to hand over suspects in the torture and killing of a graduate student or fully cooperate in the investigation.

A special parliamentary commission investigating the abduction, torture and slaying of Giulio Regeni, who disappeared in Cairo in 2016 while doing academic research, questioned Conte about the perceived lack of progress in the case during a two-hour hearing.

Conte sought to reassure lawmakers that he has repeatedly pressed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in phone calls and in personal meetings, urging that country's authorities to let the truth be determined about who killed Regeni.

Since late 2018, Italian prosecutors have called for Egypt to hand over five intelligence and police service officials or at least cooperate in their prosecution in Italy. Parties in Conte's coalition government, including the populist 5-Star Movement and the center-left Democrats, are questioning the wisdom of going ahead with the sale to Egypt of the two warships, which were built in Italy and at first destined for the Italian navy.

During the panel's questioning, opposition lawmaker Andrea Orsini, from the center-right Forza Italia party, urged Conte to consult with his own coalition about the sale. “You have a duty to do some reflection on this,” Orsini said.

Democratic Party lawmaker Debora Serracchiani insisted Conte reveal if he had pressed el-Sissi to at least supply information about the five kidnapping suspects that could help Italy prosecute them. “Maybe they are the ones who (also) tortured and killed Regeni,” she said.

The premier told the panel he would elaborate on how the Egyptian president has responded to his entreaties, but in a closed-door session that followed the open-door hearing. “The question of the barbarous killing of Regeni has always been at the center”of his government, Conte insisted.

Another Democratic Party lawmaker, Lia Quartapelle, noted that in the past few years, Egypt has been Italy's biggest purchaser of arms. Conte described Egypt as a key ally in combating terrorism and illegal migration as well as an important geopolitical player in Libya, Italy's conflict-plagued, unstable neighbor across the Mediterranean.

Lawmakers on the parliamentary commission disputed the wisdom of that strategy. “We can't call Egypt an ally any more until this (Regeni) matter is cleared up,'' said Quartapelle. ”We can't trust Egypt."

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