International

Pakistani Prime Minister Formally Charged With Contempt Of Court

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is surrounded by security personnel as he arrives at Supreme Court for a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday. i i

hide captionPakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is surrounded by security personnel as he arrives at Supreme Court for a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday.

Anjum Naveed/AP
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is surrounded by security personnel as he arrives at Supreme Court for a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is surrounded by security personnel as he arrives at Supreme Court for a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday.

Anjum Naveed/AP

In a landmark ruling, Pakistan's Supreme Court said the country's prime minister will stand trial on charges of contempt of court.

As NPR's Julie McCarthy reported for us last month, the charges against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stem from his refusal to re-open a graft case against his boss, President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani entered a not guilty plea.

The Washington Post reports that if the prime minister is convicted, he could face up to six months in jail and could be removed from office.

The Post adds:

"The trial, which is scheduled for Feb. 22, could take several weeks, continuing the crisis atmosphere that has gripped the capital as the showdown between the government and judiciary has escalated. Gilani maintains the constitution grants Zardari immunity from prosecution. The court says rule of law cannot be compromised by allowing the prime minister to flout its orders.

"The continued political upheaval is dangerous, analysts say, because it puts pressure on an already weak civilian government. The crisis also distracts from crucial efforts to repair relations between Pakistan and the United States at a time when Pakistan is considered a key player in efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan."

In its story, The Christian Science Monitor concentrates on the country's internal politics. The charges, the paper reports, are seen by some as a step forward in the rule of law and by others as setting a "dangerous antidemocratic precedent."

The Monitor also adds that the president could pardon the prime minister. Senate elections are coming up next month, and another set are due in 2013 and that will no doubt affect the president's decision.

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