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News

Pakistani premier wins breathing space in graft case

Pakistan's Supreme Court has given Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf more time to reopen graft cases against President Asi Ali Zardari. The legal wrangle threatens to topple the government.

The court in Islamabad gave Ashraf a deadline of September 18 to ask Swiss authorities to relaunch corruption probes against Zardari after first ordering him to do so within two weeks in July.

The new court order came after Ashraf appeared in person and requested a delay. Ashraf had sought four to six weeks to resolve the matter.

The allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, when his late wife Benazir Bhutto was prime minister. The two allegedly deposited millions of dollars in bribes in Swiss banks.

Despite being ordered by judges to do so, the Pakistani government has refused for more than two years to reopen investigations into Zardari's doings, arguing the president enjoys immunity as head of state.

Ashraf's predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was disqualified from office in June for his refusal to request the Swiss to reopen the corruption cases, and the court has intimated that Ashraf could suffer the same fate.

The showdown could result in premature elections before February 2013. The government would otherwise become the first in Pakistan's history to last a full five-year elected mandate.

Thousands of corruption cases were thrown out in 2007 under an amnesty introduced under former military president Pervez Musharraf, paving the way for a return to civilian rule. The court overturned the amnesty in 2009 and ordered that the cases be reopened.

tj/msh (AFP, dpa)