x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

US senator Kerry in Pakistan to try to free jailed embassy employee

Pakistan seeks to ease tensions over the fate of Raymond Davis, the US consular employee jailed in Lahore for shooting two Pakistanis last month.

ISLAMABAD // the US senator John Kerry flew to Islamabad yesterday as the Obama administration sought to resolve a crisis sparked by the detention of a US embassy employee accused of killing two Pakistanis.

Mr Kerry, the influential chair of the Senate foreign relations committee and member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party, will meet senior Pakistani officials, the US embassy in Islamabad said in a statement.

His visit comes as Pakistan seeks to ease tensions over the fate of Raymond Davis, the US consular employee jailed in the Pakistani city of Lahore for shooting two Pakistanis last month.

Washington insists Mr Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be released, but the Pakistani government, fearful of a backlash from Pakistanis already wary of the US and enraged by the shooting, says the matter should be decided in court.

Mr Davis was arrested last month after shooting two Pakistanis in what he said was self-defence during an armed robbery attempt and what Lahore's police chief called "clear-cut murder".

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

American officials have threatened to withhold billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan and have already begun curbing diplomatic contacts in an attempt to get Mr Davis freed.

Pakistani government officials have for days avoided taking a definitive stand on Mr Davis's legal status, in the face of popular anger over the shootout.

Thousands have rallied against Mr Davis, and the Taliban have threatened attacks against Pakistani government officials if Mr Davis is freed.

However, a Pakistani official told The Associated Press yesterday that after reviewing the matter most of the experts in Pakistan's law and foreign offices believe that Mr Davis is immune from prosecution.

The government is expected to give documents laying out the opinions to a court during a hearing today.

On the same day, the US is expected to present a petition to a Lahore court to certify that Mr Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be released.

* Associated Press with additional reporting from Reuters