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American may face murder charge in Pakistan

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

The killings 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 because of its forces in neighboring Afghanistan and regular missile attacks against militant targets in Pakistan's northwest. Islamist and right-wing 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 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 in another car, according to police. Officers have said the driver of that vehicle 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Police officer Umar Saeed said the American, who has not been named by U.S. authorities, had told officers he had withdrawn money from an ATM shortly before the robbery attempt and was acting in self-defense. Other Pakistani officers have said the men 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.

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.

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