Italy ups pressure on Egypt over student’s murder

Italy has upped its pressure on Egypt over slain student Giulio Regeni, warning it would not accept a "fabricated" account of the Italian's torture and murder from Egyptian prosecutors and police due in Rome on Wednesday.

Italy ups pressure on Egypt over student's murder
Paolo Gentiloni has warned that Italy will not accept a 'fabricated' account of Giulio Regeni's torture. Photo: John Thys/AFP

As Cairo confirmed the investigative team would fly to the Italian capital, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned of unspecified “proportionate” consequences if Rome's demands for greater transparency on Regeni's fate were not met.

Regeni, 28, and a PhD candidate at Cambridge University, was found dead outside Cairo on February 3rd, his body bearing the signs of torture which an autopsy concluded had been inflicted over several days.

On March 25, Cairo announced police had killed four members of a criminal gang specializing in abducting foreigners, and that they had found Regeni's passport in the apartment of a sister of one of the slain suspects.

That version of what happened to Regeni has been greeted with outraged scepticism in Italy, where there is a widespread suspicion that the murder was the work of elements in the security services. Cairo has rejected that theory as baseless.

Gentiloni reiterated that Italy regarded the kidnapping gang story as a “new attempt to give credence to a convenient truth” and said he would reject any attempt to have it accepted as “a conclusion to the investigation”.

Egypt responded tersely to those remarks. “We refrain from commenting on these statements which complicate the situation, particularly as they come one day prior to the arrival of the Egyptian investigators' team,” the foreign ministry in Cairo said in a statement.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Italy would not stop until it got “the truth, full stop. The real truth.

“We owe that to Giulio, his friends, his mother, father, his little sister and we owe it to all of us. We hope and we think Egypt can cooperate with our magistrates … we want, we want, we want the truth to the see the light of day.”

Close ties at risk

Gentiloni told Italian lawmakers that Rome was still waiting to receive Regeni's mobile phone records and CCTV images from the neighbourhood in which he was abducted. The minister also said Italy was seeking information on Regeni having “probably been placed under surveillance prior to his abduction.”

If these elements are not forthcoming, Gentiloni warned of damage to the usually close relations between the two countries.

“The government is ready to react by adopting immediate and proportionate measures,” he said, rejecting suggestions Italy could not afford a bust-up with a major trade and security partner.

“In the name of reasons of state, we will not accept a fabricated truth… and we will not allow the dignity of our country to be walked all over.”

Egypt's public prosecutor's office said the team headed for Rome would be led by deputy general prosecutor Mostafa Suleiman and would “present the results of the investigation conducted by the Egyptian general prosecution in the case so far”.

The delegation was initially due in Rome on Tuesday, but the trip was delayed for undisclosed reasons.

Barely recognizable

Regeni disappeared in central Cairo on January 25th, and his body was found nine days later on the side of a motorway. His mother later said his body had been so badly mutilated she could only recognize him by the tip of his nose.

Regeni had been researching labour movements in Egypt, a sensitive topic, and had written articles critical of the government under a pen name.

He disappeared on a day when Cairo was almost deserted and security tight as the country marked the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Since the 2013 ouster of Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi, rights groups have accused Egypt's security services of carrying out illegal detentions, forced disappearances of activists and the torture of detainees.

Since Morsi's removal by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a police crackdown targeting Morsi's supporters has left hundreds dead and tens of thousands jailed.

Hundreds more have been sentenced to death, including Morsi himself.

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Rome archaeologists continue search for start of Appian Way

An excavation team in Rome is trying to unearth the first, oldest section of the Appian Way, the Roman Empire's most strategic highway, which may soon become a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Rome archaeologists continue search for start of Appian Way

A paved road of more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) begun in 312 BC by Roman statesman Appius Claudius Caecus, the ‘Via Appia‘ is an archaeological treasure trove, where an ongoing excavation hopes to uncover the actual starting point of the road in Rome.

The artery leading south to the key port of Brindisi at Italy’s heel provided a gateway to the eastern Mediterranean, especially Greece, and was of strategic importance for the armies and merchants of a quickly expanding Rome.

READ ALSO: Treasure trove of ancient Roman statues unearthed in Tuscany

This week, archaeologists showed off progress in their attempt to dig deep enough to unearth the beginning of the road, hidden far beneath Rome’s Baths of Caracalla, built some five centuries after the Appian Way.

“What we see today is the result of an excavation that began in July with the central goal of finding clues to the location of the first section of the Appian Way,” said archaeologist Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani.

The first, earliest section of the road is the one that provides “the most problems regarding the precise and exact location”, the professor at Roma Tre University cautioned.

The Appian Way is a paved road stretching more than 500 kilometres, begun in 312 B.C. by Roman statesman Appius Claudius Caecus. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Construction of the Appian Way required Herculean engineering, from the levelling of the land, building of ditches and canals and surfacing of the road with gravel and heavy stone, to the building of post offices and inns to support the thousands of soldiers and merchants headed southward.

Digging deeper

Wandering today along the Appian Way, where massive blocks of paving stone are still visible in sections, is to take a trip through the past.

Imposing monuments such as the first century BC tomb of a consul’s daughter, Cecilia Metella, sit alongside ancient catacombs and churches, crumbling tombstones of Roman families and leafy villas.

The Appian Way sheds light not only on the Roman Republic and later Roman Empire, but also on life and death in the Middle Ages with its pilgrimage shrines and crypts.

The road also provides a glimpse of modern architectural wonders, such as the sumptuous villas owned by Italy’s rich and famous, including film legend Gina Lollobrigida or former premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Appian Way in Rome

A man walks along Rome’s Appian Way, which might soon become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Italy, which earlier this month presented its bid for the Appian Way to UNESCO, already has 58 sites recognised as World Heritage Sites, the most of any country.

They include entire historical city centres, such as Rome, Florence and Venice, and archaeological areas such as the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Work to locate the starting point of the Appian Way, believed to be some eight metres below ground, has so far been complicated by groundwater.

Nevertheless, digging in higher strata of ground has unearthed relics from different periods, including a marble bust from the second century AD and an early papal square coin, minted between 690 and 730.

Wandering today along the Appian Way is to take a trip through the past. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Archaeologists have also found fragments of glass and ceramics, mosaic and bits of amphora.

So far, the excavation has reached residential or commercial structures dating back to the time of Emperor Hadrian, who died in 138 AD.

Archaeologist Daniele Manacorda said the current excavation had reached the point of “late ancient Rome, the one that began to live in the ruins of ancient Rome”.

“If we could continue to dig deeper, we would find archaic Rome,” he said.

By AFP’s Kelly Velasquez and Alexandria Sage