US worker faces Pakistani court today

Kerry hopes issue will be over in days

By Munir Ahmed and Heidi Vogt
Associated Press / February 17, 2011

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — US Senator John F. Kerry said yesterday that he is hopeful that Washington and Islamabad can make progress in the next few days toward resolving the bitter dispute over a US Embassy worker detained in Pakistan.

Kerry, who rushed to Pakistan to try to prevent a diplomatic meltdown over the continued detention of American Raymond Davis, sounded upbeat at the end of two days of meetings with senior government officials and opposition powerbrokers.

The United States says that Davis shot two Pakistanis in self-defense as they tried to rob him Jan. 27, and that his detention is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats. Fearful of stoking more outrage in a public already rife with anti-American sentiment, Pakistani leaders have said that the matter is up to the courts to decide.

Davis’s next court hearing is set for today.

“I look forward in the next few days, hopefully, to finding the ways that we all agreed on — that we can find — in order to resolve this issue,’’ Kerry told reporters before boarding a plane in the Pakistani capital.

The dispute has become a bitter point of contention between the United States and Pakistan, a key ally in the war in Afghanistan. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said his meetings were encouraging, and he stressed that all involved said they wanted and expected to end the standoff amicably.

But Kerry’s upbeat attitude contrasted with a sense of internal divisions within Pakistan’s government over how to handle the case.

Pakistan’s former foreign minister maintained yesterday that legal advisers told him Davis did not qualify for “blanket’’ diplomatic immunity, without elaborating. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who stepped down earlier this month but retains influence, reiterated this stance after meeting with Kerry.

But a government official told the Associated Press Tuesday that the government would tell the court that most of its legal specialists had decided that Davis, 36, is immune from prosecution.

The Pakistani government is under intense public pressure. Crowds of protesters have urged the government to try Davis.

In the southern city of Karachi yesterday, dozens of young men protested US efforts to win Davis’s release. About 50 members of an Islamist political party gathered outside the Karachi press club, chanting “Down with America!’’ They also burned effigies of Obama and Kerry.

Upon arriving in Pakistan late Tuesday, Kerry expressed regret over the loss of life and promised that the United States will conduct a criminal investigation into the shooting if Davis is released.

Yesterday, Kerry met with President Asif Ali Zardari; the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani; and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Gilani’s office issued a statement saying the prime minister had raised the possibility of having the United States compensate the families of the dead in lieu of sending Davis to prison.

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