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Shooting that has Lahore taking aim at America

US embassy official's killing of two locals has whipped up diplomatic tensions – and put Pakistan in no mood for leniency

The US has demanded the immediate release of an American diplomat arrested over the shooting deaths of two Pakistani men, saying he has immunity from prosecution and was illegally detained.

Raymond Davis, a so-called technical adviser to the US consulate in Lahore, shot dead two men he said were trying to rob him while he was waiting at a traffic signal.

Amid a fresh wave of anti-American rhetoric, Davis was brought before a court yesterday and ordered to be kept in custody for six days. Officials insisted the American would not receive special treatment. "He has killed two men. A case is registered against him on murder charges," Rana Bakhtiar, deputy prosecutor general for Punjab province, told reporters after the hearing.

Mr Davis told police he fired at the two men in self-defence when they pulled up close to him on a motorbike while his car was waiting near a busy junction; at least one of them took out a weapon and pointed it at him, he said. Witnesses said Mr Davis then sped off and a second US vehicle, which came to the scene to help him, crossed onto the wrong side of the road and hit several people, fatally injuring one of them.

The families of the two motorcyclists claimed they were not robbers and had only been carrying pistols for their own protection. Police statements regarding the two men's intentions have varied. The Associated Press said Mr Davis had told investigators that shortly before the incident he had withdrawn cash from an ATM and the two men may have seen him doing so.

"Action will be taken against the US national according to Pakistani laws. The Punjab government will ensure that the foreigner will be prosecuted according to the law of the land and no pressure will be accepted in this regard," said Rana Sanaullah, Punjab's law minister.

He said although the two men who were killed were carrying weapons, investigators had yet to determine whether Mr Davis's life was at risk. He claimed inquiries would be completed within two weeks. A separate charge has been registered against the as-yet unidentified driver of the second American vehicle which killed a pedestrian. The funerals of the three people who died were due to be held last night.

Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, it is already clear that Thursday's incident has sparked fresh controversy in a country where most people do not view the US in a positive light and where many will consider the shootings nothing less than an act of murder.

A number of media organisations and news channels seized on the incident, suggesting that Mr Davis was in the wrong and questioning whether he would be charged. One right-wing English language newspaper, The Nation, carried a headline that roared: "American Rambo goes berserk in Lahore".

"The media is trying to create an atmosphere. It is media populism where they are just saying what the audience wants to hear rather than what is socially responsible or professionally correct," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, an analyst based in Lahore. "They are more interested in provoking public passions."

Pakistani politicians have been quick to condemn the incident and ensure they are not seen as giving special treatment to the American. The Prime Minister, Yousaf Gilani, said the government was awaiting the outcome of the investigation, while the interior minister, Rehman Malik, said under pressure in parliament from opposition politicians that no foreigners were permitted to carry weapons in Pakistan.

The US Embassy in Islamabad issued a brief statement saying it was working with the Pakistani authorities to determine what happened.

In Washington, meanwhile, the US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said: "We want to make sure that a tragedy like this does not affect the strategic partnership that we're building with Pakistan. And we'll work as hard as we can to explain that to the Pakistani people."

Independent staff contributed updates to this report.