Pakistan has been thrown into political turmoil after the Supreme Court called for the prime minister to be arrested. The move comes as thousands protest in support of a cleric calling for a new government.
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the arrest of the country's prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, along with 16 others in connection with corruption, plunging volatile Pakistan into a fresh political crisis.
The authorities now have 24 hours to arrest Ashraf. The corruption case that he is implicated in is linked to power projects, according to local media.
The development came as a controversial cleric, Tahir ul Qadri, who is believed to have military, backing drew thousands of protesters to the streets in the capital, Islamabad, and called for the resignation of the government, which is believed to have backing from the United States.
Violence broke out near Pakistan's parliament early on Tuesday, after some of the estimated 30,000 demonstrators began throwing rocks at security forces sent in to control the crowds. In the lead-up to the eruption, supporters of Tahir ul Qadri had descended upon the capital over a two-day period to protest against government corruption.
Addressing his audience from behind bullet-proof glass, Tahir ul Qadri announced a deadline for lawmakers to comply with the crowds' demands.
"I am giving you a deadline until [Tuesday] morning to accordingly announce the dissolution of the national and the four provincial assemblies," said ul Qadri, who recently returned to his native Pakistan after living in exile in Canada.
Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, says that though there is no evidence of the involvement of the military in the cleric’s activities, the perception of a similar agenda is “very strong.”
“He is not a very popular cleric at all,” Gul told DW TV. “But the agenda that he has taken up somehow resonates with that of the common man who is suffering from inflation, unemployment, power outages, and that is what it is agitating against.”
Sej, rg/mkg (AP, AFP, Reuters)