Pakistan judges press PM Ashraf to pursue Zardari case

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, centre, briefs the media in Karachi on Monday, 25 June 2012
Image caption Mr Ashraf looks set for trouble with the judges

Pakistan's Supreme Court has given new PM Raja Pervez Ashraf two weeks to say whether he intends to reopen corruption cases against President Zardari.

The order confirms that Pakistan's legal crisis is set to continue.

Mr Ashraf was elected prime minister last week after the Supreme Court removed Yousuf Raza Gilani from office.

The court convicted Mr Gilani of contempt for refusing to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against the president.

Mr Gilani had argued that the president had immunity from prosecution.

In a separate ruling on Wednesday, the Lahore High Court ordered President Zardari to give up his post as co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) by 5 September.

The judges ruled that such a step would "be in accordance with the constitution of Pakistan".

The court moves are being seen as part of a long and bitter feud between the judiciary and the civilian government, which also has a troubled relationship with the powerful military.

The corruption charges against President Zardari date back to the 1990s, when his late wife Benazir Bhutto was prime minister. They were accused of using Swiss bank accounts to launder bribe money.

President Zardari has always insisted the charges against him are politically motivated.

"The new prime minister was elected last week and we trust that he will honour the direction given by this court," Supreme Court Justice Nasir ul-Mulk said in Wednesday's order.

"In the meantime we direct the attorney general to obtain instructions from the prime minister and inform the court... on the next date of the hearing on 12 July."

Observers say Pakistan can ill-afford its constitutional in-fighting. The country's economy is in crisis, as are relations with the US, and militants are waging a violent insurgency in tribal areas near the Afghan border.

General elections are due by early next year, with the PPP-led government aiming to make history by becoming Pakistan's first civilian government to see out a full five-year term.