ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's top court ordered the arrest of the country's prime minister in a corruption case today as a firebrand cleric rallied thousands of people against the government for a second day in the capital.
The Supreme Court's order, which is likely to inflame the already antagonistic relationship between the government and the court, was related to a case involving private power stations set up to provide electricity to energy-starved Pakistan. The judges are investigating allegations that the bidding process was marred by corruption.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ordered the arrest of several people involved in the case, including Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who previously served as minister for water and power, said court officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
An adviser to the prime minister, Fawad Chaudhry, said the country's attorney general, Irfan Qadir, called Ashraf to notify him that the chief justice had suggested he be arrested during a hearing into the case. But Qadir expressed doubt that it was an official order and suggested waiting for the written ruling, which should come out later on Tuesday.
The adviser said any attempt to arrest the prime minister would be unconstitutional since he enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office.
The court developments could provide ammunition for Tahir ul-Qadri, a fiery Muslim cleric who is leading a massive protest rally in Islamabad to press for the removal of the government, which he claims is made up of thieving politicians.
The rally called by Qadri, who has rocketed to national prominence after his return from Canada late last year, has galvanized many Pakistanis who say the current government has brought them only misery. But critics fear that Qadri and his demands for election reforms may derail the country's upcoming democratic elections, possibly at the behest of the country's powerful military.