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Pakistani PM Ordered To Appear In Court


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) is flanked by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (right) for a meeting of coalition partners in Islamabad on January 16.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) is flanked by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (right) for a meeting of coalition partners in Islamabad on January 16.

Pakistan's Supreme Court has declared Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contempt and ordered him to testify personally before the court on January 19.

After lawmakers passed a resolution in support of democracy and the constitution later in the day, the prime minister pledged to abide by the ruling.

The court's decision stems from Gilani's failure to carry out a judicial order to open a corruption probe into the activities of President Asif Ali Zardari dating back to the 1990s when Zardari was Investment Minister in a government led by his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto.

Gilani's government has refused to launch the probe into the long-running Swiss corruption case, saying Zardari has immunity as president.

The ruling against Gilani means he could be prosecuted, despite claims that he also has immunity as prime minister. That could lead to Gilani's dismissal and early elections.

The court ordered Gilani to appear before the court on January 19 to explain why he has not complied with the order.

The latest ruling is one of several legal challenges facing Pakistan's civilian leadership, which has been under increased pressure from the country's powerful military elite since last week when Gilani sacked his defense secretary -- a retired general close to the military establishment.

A Supreme Court commission is also probing another scandal allegedly involving Zardari, which has become known as "memogate."

Gilani last week criticized Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani and the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, for filing court papers in the case without submitting the statements through the government.

On January 14, Gilani rejected a demand by the powerful General Kayani to retract his criticism.

"I am answerable to parliament," he said. "For any complaints, I will not answer to a person. I am answerable to parliament. I will tell the parliament whenever it desires to know my stance."

The memo case centers on an unsigned note, allegedly sent by an aide of Zardari to the U.S. military last May, which asks for help to stop a possible military coup in Islamabad after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Lack Of Crucial Evidence

The Supreme Court commission, set up on December 30 after a demand from the ISI chief, is hearing from the government on January 16 and is expected to announce its findings later in the month about whether Zardari actually endorsed the note.

Earlier on January 16, Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq said the commission had not been able to obtain crucial evidence -- Blackberry message data sent between Zardari's aide, then-ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, and U.S. businessman Mansoor Ijaz.

Ijaz first made the memo scandal public in a "Financial Times" newspaper column in October. He claims to have acted as a go-between.

Haqqani, who has since resigned, denies any involvement with the note and says Ijaz invented the story.

Also on January 16, Pakistan's National Assembly is voting on a resolution that attempts to bolster support for the civilian leadership. The row has provoked fears of another military coup in Pakistan.

But analysts say Pakistan's military has no appetite for a coup and would prefer to see Zardari and Gilani removed by legal means.

with agency reports
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