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Egypt's Sisi inaugurates Zohr gas field


Cairo (AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday inaugurated the offshore Zohr gas field, aimed at making the Arab world's most populous country self-sufficient in natural gas by the end of 2018.

"We are now entering into the self-sufficiency stage... and, God willing, by the end of the year we will have reached self-sufficiency," Petroleum Minister Tarek al-Molla said at a ceremony broadcast live on state television.

In December, the oil ministry said it was starting production from the field discovered in 2015 by Italian energy giant Eni at an initial 350 million cubic feet (10 million cubic metres) a day.

Molla said Egypt expects it "will be able to stop importing liquefied natural gas... and therefore save what we import which is $230 million per month, or $2.8 billion annually".

The field, which is about 200 kilometres from the shore west of the canal city of Port Said, has a full output capacity of 2.7 billion cubic feet per day.

The Egyptian government is trying to roll back the economic impact of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak and led to years of turmoil.

The inauguration comes after strains in the traditionally close relationship between Cairo and Rome over the 2016 murder of 28-year-old Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt.

The body of the Cambridge University PhD researcher was discovered by a roadside bearing signs of torture after he went missing in the Egyptian capital.

The slow pace of the investigation prompted Italy to withdraw its ambassador from Cairo for more than a year.

A new ambassador was put in place in September 2017.

"We will not forget Regeni," Sisi said at the ceremony attended by Eni boss Claudio Descalzi.

"We offer our condolences to Regeni's family and we won't forget this incident until we find the perpetrators and bring them to justice in Egypt."

Egyptian authorities initially suggested Regeni died in a traffic accident, but later said he was killed by a criminal gang that was subsequently wiped out in a shootout with police.

That account was met with suspicion in Italy, where politicians and the media have suggested Regeni was slain by elements in Egypt's security services.

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