Student tortured, killed in Egypt given funeral in Italy

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The coffin of Italian student Giulio Regeni is carried during his funeral in Fiumicello, northern Italy, Feb. 12, 2016. The death has sparked international uproar and strained relations between Egypt and Italy. Photo by Reuters

The coffin of Italian student Giulio Regeni is carried during his funeral in Fiumicello, northern Italy, Feb. 12, 2016. The death has sparked international uproar and strained relations between Egypt and Italy. Photo by Reuters

An Italian student killed in Egypt was given a funeral in his hometown on Friday as diplomatic tension over his death continued between Rome and Cairo.

Flags flew at half staff in the Italian town of Fiumicello, where hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral of Giulio Regeni, whose body, half-naked and bearing signs of torture, was found in a roadside ditch on the outskirts of Cairo early this month.

Regeni, a 28-year-old PH.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge, had been in Cairo researching labor unions. Unions are a delicate topic in Egypt, where autocratic regimes have historically viewed such organizations with suspicion, seeing them as incubators of political opposition and threats to state control over the economy.

Regeni’s death caused an uproar in Italy, where news reports have stated that Italian officials suspect that Egyptian security forces tortured and killed Regeni. On Monday, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, la Repubblica, featured a headline that read “Giulio Regeni tortured because they thought he was a spy.”

There is no clear proof that Egyptian security forces were involved in Regeni’s death. But the inconsistency of Egyptian authorities’ accounts of the killing — officials initially attributed it to a roadside accident before an autopsy conducted in Italy determined that Regeni had been tortured — have contributed to such suspicions, as has the date of Regeni’s disappearance.

Regeni was last seen on Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of the start of the revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. The days preceding the anniversary saw heavy police presence and a severe crackdown on opposition in Egypt.

Egyptian authorities vehemently deny their government’s involvement in Regeni’s death, however.

In an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry called such allegations “judgments, accusations and unwarranted insinuations” and said that relations between Italy and Egypt, which share strong commercial ties and cooperate in countering Islamist militants in Libya, remained solid.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has not accused Egypt of any wrongdoing, but on Friday he repeated earlier demands that those responsible be identified and punished. Renzi, whose government has called for Italian involvement in the investigation of Regeni’s death, also warned that the state of diplomatic relations between the two countries depended on a reliable inquiry.

“For the moment, all our requests have been met and above all we have demanded that every element should be put on the table in order that the truth can be established and those really responsible can be detained. We have told the Egyptians: friendship is a precious asset but it is only possible on the basis of truth,” Renzi told Italian media.

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