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US demands release of held diplomat

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.

The statement from the embassy raised the stakes in what could emerge as a major dispute between Pakistan and the US, which is pushing for closer ties with Islamabad to help fight Islamist militancy.

The embassy said the man was acting in self-defence when he shot and killed two armed men as they approached his car in Lahore on Thursday.

It said the men were intending to rob him, something police officers have also said.

The man, who has not been named, was taken into custody soon after the shooting and police have said they are investigating him and could file murder charges.

US officials were granted access to him late on Friday.

The US Embassy in Pakistan calls for the "immediate release" of the diplomat, the statement said.

Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment. They have largely ignored questions over any immunity the American may have.

The killings added to already strong anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. Islamist and nationalist commentators have portrayed the incident as an example of American brutality and called on the government, often criticised for being to beholden to Washington, to punish the man.

A third Pakistani died when he was allegedly hit by an American car that rushed to the scene to help the US official.

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