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Pakistan court orders PM arrest over corruption

© AFP

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-01-15

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the prime minister on Tuesday in connection with a corruption case, hours after police in Islamabad clashed with followers of a mysterious anti-corruption cleric seeking the government’s dismissal.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court gave authorities 24 hours to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and 16 others in connection with a corruption case linked to power generation schemes, Pakistani television channels reported on Tuesday, plunging the country into fresh political turmoil.

The move came as populist Sufi cleric Tahirul Qadri, who is believed to be backed by the military, demanded the resignation of the US-backed civilian government in protests attended by thousands of followers in the heart of the capital Islamabad.

Tahirul Qadri returned to Pakistan from Canada in January 2013, calling for a "million-men" movement to march on parliament in protest of corruption. © AFP

Qadri demanded the resignation of the government in a speech to his followers. “I give you time ... to dissolve the national and all four provincial assemblies; otherwise the nation will dissolve them on their own,” Qadri said from behind a bullet-proof shield in front of parliament.

Clashes between Qadri’s supporters and police in the early hours of Tuesday morning saw forces firing into the air while supporters of the fiery cleric hurled stones at them. One man was shown on the ground being beaten by what appeared to be protesters.

FRANCE 24’s Taha Siddqui said that the clashes broke out when Qadri’s supporters attempted to surround the parliament building. “Qadri had initially agreed with police to stop a kilometre away from parliament,” he said.

One anonymous city official put the number of protesters at roughly 30,000.

Military suspicions

Qadri returned home from Canada only a few weeks ago to lead a call for anti-corruption reforms that have made him an instant hit among Pakistanis disillusioned with the state.

But critics fear that Qadri and his demands for election reforms may derail the country’s upcoming democratic elections.

Some of Qadri’s reform proposals have also sparked concern that the cleric is being used as a front for the Pakistani military to derail the upcoming vote, just as the country – which has a history of coups – prepares for its first transfer of power from one civilian government to another.

“One of Qadri’s first demands is to have the military and the judiciary to have a say in the interim government which will hold the general elections,” FRANCE 24's Siddiqui reported on Tuesday. “We also know that during the early years of Pervez Musharraf, Qadri supported his military regime. So there are a lot of political observers in Pakistan saying that he might be sponsored by the military because they want to have a say in the elections.”

ISLAMABAD BESIEGED BY PROTESTERS

In his speech outside parliament on Tuesday, Qadri praised the military and the judiciary. “[The government] has wasted and brought a bad end to our armed forces, those armed forces who are highly sincere, highly competent and highly capable and highly professional,” he said in mixed Urdu and English.

“Even they can’t do anything because the political government isn’t able to deliver anything from this land. Judgments are being passed by our great, independent judiciary but the government is not ready to implement them.”

Minister of Interior Rehman Malik, speaking on Pakistani television on Tuesday, dismissed Qadri’s demands as “unconstitutional” and blamed his supporters for sparking the clashes.

Pre-election challenges

The elections, if they proceed on time, could cement Pakistan’s transition from military rule. So Pakistan’s current civilian leaders will be reluctant to step down even if Qadri gathers more momentum, analysts say.

But Qadri’s protest is the latest in a series of challenges for the administration, just months before the elections, expected to be held in May or June.

In the Balochistan provincial capital of Quetta, tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims began burying the victims of a sectarian attack in a mass grave on Monday, ending an extraordinary three-day protest over one of the worst sectarian attacks in the country’s history.

The government is also struggling to control Taliban insurgents based near the border with Afghanistan. Last week, the army became embroiled in another low-level skirmish with old enemy India along a ceasefire line dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-01-15

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