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Pak softens on Davis' immunity

world Updated: Feb 15, 2011 15:20 IST

Pakistan will tell a court that most of its legal experts believe a detained American has diplomatic immunity, but will leave it to a judge to rule on his status, an official said on Tuesday - a sign that Islamabad is trying to give the US an opening to free the man while avoiding a backlash among its citizens.

US employee Raymond Davis has been held by Pakistani authorities since he fatally shot two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore on Jan. 27.

Washington says Davis shot two robbers in self-defense and his detention is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats. American officials have threatened to withhold billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan and have already begun curbing diplomatic contacts to get Davis freed.

Pakistani government officials have for days avoided taking a definitive stand on Davis' legal status, in the face of popular anger over the shootout. Thousands have rallied against Davis, and the Taliban have threatened attacks against Pakistani government officials if Davis is freed.

However, a Pakistani official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that after reviewing the matter, most of the experts in Pakistan's law and foreign offices believe that Davis is immune from prosecution. The government is expected to give documents laying out the opinions to a court during a hearing Thursday. However, government officials want the court to make a final ruling on the subject of Davis' immunity, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity.

The US Embassy confirmed Tuesday that Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was on his way to Pakistan to discuss the two countries' ties. The Pakistani official said Kerry was expected to issue a statement of regret over the incident, though American officials would not confirm that. The US declined to comment directly on the Pakistani government's plans for the court hearing, however, American officials have said in the past that diplomatic immunity is not supposed to be a subject for courts to decide, but rather something for governments to certify in line with their obligations under international treaties.