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Gilani convicted in contempt case, given a symbolic sentence

Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was today convicted by the Supreme Court for contempt over his refusal to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and was given a symbolic sentence that lasted 30 seconds threatening his continuance in office.

"For reasons to be recorded later, the prime minister is found guilty of contempt for willfully flouting the direction of the Supreme Court," Justice Nasirul Mulk, who headed the seven-judge bench said as he sentenced Gilani "till the rising of the court", sparing him a jail term.

The court also made a reference to Article 63(1g) of the Constitution, which lists the grounds for disqualifications of a convicted parliamentarian, but did not invoke it. "We note that our findings and the conviction for the contempt of court recorded are likely to entail some serious consequences in terms of Article 63(1g) of the Constitution," the bench said in a short order.

Experts said this left the door open for the initiation of the process for the disqualification of 56-year-old Gilani, Pakistan`s longest serving Prime Minister.
However, the Speaker of the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament will have 30 days to decide on such a move and the Election Commission a further 90 days effectively meaning that the premier can remain in office for four more months.

The entire proceedings in the courtroom number 4 lasted less than 10 minutes. The judges left the court immediately after announcing the verdict, effectively ending Gilani`s sentence. Emerging from the heavily guarded court, Gilani told the media: "We had sought justice. The decision was not appropriate".

A visibly dejected Prime Minister, accompanied by his sons, shook hands with his team and members of the federal cabinet after hearing the verdict. Attorney General Irfan Qadir described the verdict as "unconstitutional and unlawful". The premier remained standing for 30 seconds after the announcement of the judgement.

Opposition leaders, including PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan, called on Gilani to resign following his conviction. "In light of the verdict, I think Prime Minister Gilani should resign immediately rather than prolong the issue," Sharif said.

The PML-N would no longer accept Gilani as the premier and the government was "on a wrong wicket" while the Supreme Court is "on high moral ground and people should back the truth", Sharif said. He also demanded the holding of fresh elections and the installation of a caretaker government.

Earlier in the morning, Gilani drove in a small motorcade to the Supreme Court complex, where members of his council of ministers were waiting for him. The premier walked towards the building flanked by his son Abdul Qadeer Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik as his supporters showered rose petals on him.

Gilani, clad in a black sherwani, stopped at the door of the building and waved to his supporters before going inside. After the judges entered, Gilani walked up to a rostrum at the centre of the courtroom with Law Minister Farooq Naek and his lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan.

Gilani had been facing the prospect of a prison term of up to six months but his actual sentence lasted 30 seconds. The Supreme Court has been pushing the government to reopen cases of money laundering against President Zardari in Switzerland since December 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

The government has refused to act, saying the President enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad. The government put in place strict security arrangements for Gilani`s third appearance in the Supreme Court for the contempt case.

Helicopters mounted aerial surveillance while over 2,000 security personnel were deployed in the `Red Zone` where the apex court and parliament is located. Hours after the court announced its verdict, angry workers of the ruling Pakistan People`s Party staged protests at some places in Punjab, including Gilani`s hometown of Multan.

PPP leader and Federal Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said: "The court has declared a lawmaker a lawbreaker. This is weakening democracy in Pakistan".

State-run Radio Pakistan reported that President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the chief of the PPP, had convened a special meeting of the ruling party and its allies. The meeting will discuss a strategy following the verdict of the Supreme Court, the report said.

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