For failure to implement order on money laundering cases against Zardari

Pakistan's political turmoil deepened on Monday when the Supreme Court issued a contempt notice to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, paving the way for his possible disqualification from parliament and throwing into doubt his continuance in office.

But late on Monday, the beleaguered Pakistan People's Party government won an important political victory when the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, adopted by a majority vote a strongly worded resolution on the need to safeguard democracy.

The Supreme Court ordered Mr. Gilani to appear before it on Thursday. He has been summoned to answer contempt charges for the government's failure to implement the court's order directing it to write to the Swiss government asking it to reopen money laundering cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The seven-judge bench asked why proceedings should not be initiated against Mr. Gilani for deliberately disregarding the court's order. If convicted of the charge, Mr. Gilani could be disqualified as a member of parliament, and cannot continue in office.

Holds meeting

Immediately after the court's order, Mr. Gilani held a meeting with President Zardari. Later both met leaders of the ruling Pakistan People's Party-led coalition partners to take stock of the development.

The coalition partners are said to have advised the Prime Minister to appear before the apex court as summoned.

The meeting was attended by Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and they promised to back him in the Assembly on the resolution.

The resolution, worded to stress the importance of the Constitution and of the need to strengthen democracy in Pakistan, was introduced last week by the ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan, amid an open confrontation between the government and the Pakistan military.

The row came after months of simmering tensions over the so-called memogate scandal, about an alleged memo by the government to a top official in the U.S. military asking for help to avert a military coup in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May last year.

Thanking the National Assembly for supporting the resolution, the Prime Minister said he would appear before the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Mr. Gilani recalled that his first order, within minutes of taking oath as the Prime Minister in 2007, was to release the judges who had been placed under house arrest by the Musharraf regime.

He also held out an olive branch, saying the government wanted no confrontation with any institution including the judiciary.

According to unconfirmed reports on Pakistani television channels, Mr. Gilani, caught between the military and the judiciary, is said to have offered to resign during the meeting with the PPP coalition partners if this would strengthen the government and parliament.

The Supreme Court's order against the premier came after the Attorney-General informed it that he had received no instructions from the government relating to the court's order to reopen the corruption cases against Mr. Zardari.

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