US steps up pressure on Pak to release American diplomat

Amid a diplomatic row over the arrest of a US diplomat for gunning down two Pakistanis in Punjab's provincial capital Lahore, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday said Washington should wait for the court’s decision on the American national.
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Updated on Jan 31, 2011 11:05 PM IST
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PTI | By, Islamabad

Amid a diplomatic row over the arrest of a US diplomat for gunning down two Pakistanis in Punjab's provincial capital Lahore, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday said Washington should wait for the court’s decision on the American national.

Zardari told a visiting delegation of American Congressmen, who raised the controversial issue with the president, that it would be "prudent" to wait for the legal course in the country.

The president said that he appreciated the concern of the Congressmen "but the matter was already before the courts".

"It would be prudent to wait for the legal course to be completed," Zardari was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office in Islamabad.

Pakistani authorities have rejected a US demand for the release of Raymond Davis, who was arrested after he shot and killed two youths whom he alleged were trying to rob him in a busy commercial area of Lahore on Thursday.

The Lahore High Court on Monday sought a response from federal and provincial authorities to a petition that called for steps to ensure that Davis is not handed over to the US.

In the petition filed in the Lahore High Court, lawyer Saeed Zafar claimed efforts were underway to secure the release of the American and the government should be barred from giving him diplomatic immunity.

The American should be barred from leaving Pakistan by including his name in the Exit Control List, Zafar said.

Chief justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, who heard the petition, issued notices to the federal Attorney General and the Assistant Advocate General of Punjab province, asking them to appear in court tomorrow and to submit their responses.

The police in Lahore registered a case against Davis for illegally carrying a weapon. The US national was armed with a Glock 9mm pistol.

Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif told reporters this morning that the federal government and the Foreign Office would decide whether Davis was entitled to diplomatic immunity.

"The matter is to be decided by the Foreign Office while the provincial government is responsible for the investigation (into the shooting incident according to the) law of the land," Sharif said.

All decisions regarding the American would be taken in light of the law and the Constitution and no compromise will be made in the investigation or legal matters, he said.

In a related development, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s office denied reports in a section of the media that the government had decided to give immunity to Davis and was pressuring authorities to free the American.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Secretariat described the news reports as "incorrect and fabricated".

The spokesperson said the federal government is "not putting any pressure (on authorities) to hand over Raymond Davis to America".

"It is absolutely untrue that the Prime Minister has exerted any influence for the release of Raymond Davis," the spokesperson said.

The American, currently in police custody, contended during a court appearance last week that he had acted in self-defence.

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