South Asia

Raymond Davis case: Pakistan court delays decision

Pakistani police escort US national Raymond Davis (centre) to a court in Lahore on 28 January 2011
Image caption Raymond Davis says the men were trying to hijack his vehicle at gunpoint

A Pakistani court has delayed until 14 March a decision on whether a US official arrested for killing two men in Lahore has diplomatic immunity.

Pakistani officials argued for more time to prepare their case on the status of Raymond Davis.

The decision came after US envoy John Kerry vowed Mr Davis would be subject to a criminal inquiry at home if freed.

The case has soured relations between the US and Pakistan, a crucial ally in the fight against militants.

On Tuesday US President Barack Obama weighed in saying that Mr Davis should have diplomatic immunity. The president said it would be untenable if diplomats were prosecuted.

Mr Davis was arrested for last month's shooting in Lahore and remains in jail. He has said that he shot the two men in self-defence as they were trying to rob him.

A third man was run over by a US vehicle that came to the American's aid. Mr Davis is charged with two counts - murder and possession of illegal weapons.

'Under pressure'

Mr Davis's case has become a highly emotive issue in Pakistan. Correspondents say the government is under tremendous domestic pressure to put him on trial.

Hundreds of Pakistanis have taken part in street demonstrations and public anger intensified after the widow of one of the dead men killed herself, having said she had no hope of justice.

"As the deputy attorney general has requested three weeks to submit a reply on the status of Raymond Davis, the case is adjourned until 14 March," news agency AFP quoted Lahore high court chief justice Ijaz Mohammad Chaudhry as saying.

US officials had been expected to present evidence that Mr Davis had diplomatic immunity to the court.

On Wednesday Senator John Kerry, who has now left Pakistan, met President Asif Ali Zardari in a bid to defuse tensions over the issue.

Although Mr Kerry expressed regret over the killings and promised a US criminal investigation if Mr Davis were released, correspondents say such promises may not be enough to appease many Pakistanis.

Compensation

They say matters are further complicated because there appears to be a divide between the government of Punjab province - where the killings took place - and the central government as to who is responsible for ascertaining the diplomatic status of Mr Davis.

The provincial government says it is waiting for information from the federal government, which in turn says the issue is a provincial matter.

There has been a suggestion from Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, that it could help if compensation was paid to the families of those Mr Davis killed.

But the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says that is unlikely to appease many Pakistanis, and it looks increasingly like a formula to keep all sides happy simply does not exist.

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