Embattled Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has appeared before the Supreme Court in Islamabad to face contempt of court proceedings that could lead to his removal from office.
Reports say Gilani arrived at the court building under heavy security from police and paramilitary troops, then addressed the court before judges adjourned the case until February.
The case has further rattled a civilian establishment that has appeared under increasing pressure from Pakistan's powerful military, particularly amid an ongoing scandal over a mysterious diplomatic memo appealing for U.S. help last year in the face of a purported coup.
It came as reports suggested party officials had urged Pakistan's potentially divisive former leader, General Pervez Musharraf, to delay his planned return to the country because it might exacerbate the current tensions.
Pakistan's highest court has summoned Gilani to explain his refusal to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
If the court finds him in contempt, he could be banned from holding public office.
The government has explained its inaction on the Zardari matter by arguing that the man who has led the country for four years has immunity from prosecution while in office.
The Supreme Court hearing comes with the government facing pressure from Pakistan’s powerful military over disclosures about the memo, which was allegedly linked to Zardari and has already cost Islamabad's envoy to Washington his job.
The Supreme Court has set up a commission to investigate this case, dubbed "memogate" in the media.
Aides to former President Musharraf were quoted as saying supporters and party officials have advised him to put off his planned return to the country later this month. They added that Musharraf, who took control of government in a 1999 coup, had not yet made a final decision.
Musharraf stepped down and left Pakistan after his allies lost parliamentary elections in 2008 and the new government threatened him with impeachment. Since then, he has been living in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London.
He has said he wants to return in order to to prepare for parliamentary elections due in 2013.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said Musharraf will be arrested if he returns. The former general-cum-president faces several charges including that he failed to provide adequate security to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the wife of current President Asif Ali Zardari, before her assassination after returning to the country in 2007.
compiled from agency reports