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January 15, 2012

Pakistan's PM Agrees to Appear in Court

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has agreed to appear before the Supreme Court later this week to face a contempt notice for failing to reopen a graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The Supreme Court ordered Gilani to appear on January 19.  If convicted of contempt of court, Mr. Gilani could be sent to jail and removed from his post.

VOA’s Ira Mellman spoke with Michael Kugelman, South Asia Associate at the Washington based Woodrow Wilson Center, who said he is surprised by the contempt notice handed to the Prime Minister.

The court initiated contempt proceedings against Gilani early Monday after the government failed to ask Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against the president that dates back to the 1990s and involves the jurisdiction of the Swiss courts.  Islamabad has refused, saying Mr. Zardari has immunity as the head of state.

Hours later, Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution expressing full support for Prime Minister Gilani's government, as well as for democracy and democratic institutions.  Opposition members staged a walkout from the house during the vote.

The resolution, passed largely by Gilani's ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party, and its allies, says it will "strengthen democracy, democratic institutions and will show the sovereignty of parliament."

The court order escalates the pressure on Pakistan's civilian leadership, which faces separate court battles and high tensions with the country's powerful military.

A Supreme Court-appointed panel is investigating the origins of an unsigned memo in which Pakistan's civilian government allegedly asked for U.S. help in reining in the Pakistani military, following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May.

Last week, Mr. Gilani accused army chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence head Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha of acting unconstitutionally by making unilateral submissions to the ongoing inquiry.

In response, the military said his remarks will have "very serious ramifications," and it warned of "grievous consequences" for the country.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.