Egyptian president's Spain trip angers human rights groups
Madrid (AFP) - An official visit to Spain by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday sparked an outcry among human rights groups who said he should be shunned for his authoritarian rule, not courted.
Spain's King Felipe VI hosted Sisi for lunch at the royal palace in Madrid after the interior ministers from both nations signed an agreement to boost cooperation against illegal immigration, terrorism and organised crime.
"In these times of war and turmoil in your region, Egypt stands out as the key to stability and balance in the Middle East," the king said during a speech at the lunch he hosted for Sisi.
Spain's economy ministry said it had agreed to cooperate with Egypt to study the creation of a high-speed rail link between Cairo and Luxor.
Several other agreements are expected to be signed during Sisi's one-day official visit. in areas ranging from tourism to culture, a diplomatic source said.
Sisi was to hold talks with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy later Thursday and visit Spain's lower house of parliament. No press conference was scheduled.
The visit has been heavily criticised by Amnesty International which urged Rajoy in an open letter to call on Egypt to respect human rights during his talks with Sisi.
Critics accuse Sisi, a former army chief, of eliminating all opposition and establishing an authoritarian regime since he overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Sisi was elected president in May 2014 but a lower-than-expected turnout figure raised questions about the credibility of a man, idolised by his supporters as a hero, who can deliver stability.
"Freedom of expression of journalists and dissidents is reduced, the competence of military courts to try civilians has been expanded and security forces are allowed to sue torture and excessive force with impunity," Amnesty said in a statement.
At least 509 people were sentenced to death in Egypt last year and at least 15 people were executed, according to the rights group.