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Italy's 'Regeni amendment' ends military sales to Egypt over student killing

Opponents of the bill said refusing to sell spare fighter jet parts to Egypt - which is active in the fight against IS - was 'an absurdity'
The parents of killed Italian student Giulio Regeni unveil a banner reading 'Truth for Giulio Regeni' (AFP)

Italy’s parliament has voted to suspend the transfer of key military supplies to Egypt over the killing of an Italian PhD student in Cairo earlier this year.

The bill, named the “Regeni amendment” in honour of 28-year-old Giulio Regeni - whose body was found dumped on a roadside outside the Egyptian capital in February apparently bearing signs of torture – was passed in the Italian Senate on Wednesday night following tense discussions.

Italy has long complained that Egyptian investigations into Regeni’s killing have not been thorough enough, and in April withdrew its ambassador from Cairo in protest.

The government has been under pressure to act from the Italian public, and particularly from Regeni's parents, who have threatened to release graphic images of their son's mutilated body if the Egyptian investigation fails to give a satisfactory explanation for his death.

The Regeni Amendment marks the first time commercial steps have been taken to sanction Egypt over its handling of the killing.

The amendment – which went through by 159 votes to 55, with 17 abstentions – will see Italy halt sales of spare parts of F-16 war planes.

The Egyptian Air Force currently uses 220 F-16 fighter planes, which are made in the US, making Egypt the fourth largest operator of the aircraft in the world.

The F-16 planes are used for both air defence and ground attacks, and are a key pillar of the Egyptian armed forces.

The bill provoked strong reactions on both sides of the senate, with supporters expressing hope that the move would put pressure on Egypt to further investigate the killing of the student, who was in Cairo to research local union activity.

“This is a strong signal to Egypt, who we want to continue having open dialogue with, but from whom we expect real and sincere collaboration,” said Giulia Debora Serracchiani, president of the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

However, opponents of the move warned angrily that it could jeopardise relations with what they described as a key Middle Eastern ally in the fight against Islamic State.

“With those planes Egypt is fighting jihadists from ISIS in Libya,” said Senator Maurizio Gasparri of the right-wing National Alliance.

“The government of [Prime Minister Matteo] Renzi is making declarations against terrorism, which has struck in Istanbul even in the last few hours, and then boycotts the commitment of countries that are on the front line against those who sow terror.”

“The truth about Regeni is an Italian right and we expect it,” Gasparri added.

“But this decision to deny spare parts for the fighter jets used against IS is an absurdity. Whose side are Renzi and those who voted for this amendment on? I am embarrassed to belong to a parliament that does these things."

Nicola Latorre, a senator from the left-wing Democratic Party, said he was keen to ensure that the decision does not mar relations with Egypt.

“This is the first time we have the opportunity to demonstrate the need to step up to find the truth about the Regeni case.

“What we want to do is to stimulate this without compromising any kind of relationship," Latorre said.

Daniela Loffreda contributed to this report.