- Associated Press - Friday, January 28, 2011

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan will pursue murder charges against a U.S. consular employee suspected of shooting two armed men during a possible robbery attempt, a top prosecutor said Friday as protesters called for the American to be severely punished.

The killings in this bustling city on Thursday have attracted intense media coverage in Pakistan, and the government — already viewed by some critics as being subservient to the United States — will be under pressure to allow the law to run its course.

Many Pakistanis already regard the U.S. with suspicion or enmity because of its occupation of neighboring Afghanistan and regular missile attacks against militant targets in Pakistan‘s northwest. Islamist and rightwing opponents of Washington and the U.S.-allied government here said the incident was a further example of American brutality.

In a sign of the political sensitivities surrounding the case, Interior Minister Rehman Malik was asked by a lawmaker in parliament whether he was trying to set the American free. “I will never abet a criminal,” replied Mr. Malik.

A third Pakistani was killed following the shootings when he was hit by a U.S. vehicle rushing to aid the American, who was also in a car, according to police. Officers have said the driver of that could also face charges.

Police officer Umar Saeed said the American, who has not been named by U.S. authorities, had told officers he had withdrawn money from an ATM shortly before the incident and was acting in self-defense. Other Pakistani officers have said the men were likely robbers, were on a motorbike and both were carrying pistols.

Rana Bakhtiar, deputy prosecutor general for Punjab, said the state would pursue murder charges.

“He has killed two men. A case is registered against him on murder charges,” he said.

Mr. Bakhtiar spoke after the American appeared in a Lahore court where judges ordered him to remain in police custody for six days. Police will now investigate the case before filing it with the court, which will then charge him.

The man has been named by Pakistani officials but the State Department says the name is incorrect.

The U.S. Embassy has not said what position the man held at the consulate in Lahore, why he was armed or whether he qualifies for diplomatic immunity.

Under widely accepted international conventions, diplomats are generally free from prosecution, but the level of immunity varies as to what job they do. A temporary consultant working at a mission, for example, may not be protected at all.

Western diplomats travel with armed guards in many parts of Pakistan because of the risk of militant attack. Lahore has seen frequent terrorist bombings and shootings over the last two years, though the city’s small expatriate population has not been directly targeted.

In a two-sentence statement, the U.S. Embassy confirmed that a consulate staffer “was involved in an incident yesterday that regrettably resulted in the loss of life.” The U.S. was working with Pakistanis to “determine the facts and work toward a resolution,” it said.

In the capital, Islamabad, and the city of Karachi, several dozen people burned U.S. flags and chanted slogans.

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