Islamabad: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Monday got a three-week reprieve from Pakistan's Supreme Court in a contempt of court case after judges accepted his plea for being given more time to address the issue of reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Ashraf on Monday became the second premier to appear before a five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa to face a contempt charge for refusing to revive the corruption cases against Zardari in Switzerland.

His predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was convicted of contempt and disqualified in June.

The bench initially adjourned the case till September 12 but subsequently put it off till September 18 after Ashraf told the bench that he would be away on an official visit to China till September 14.

The bench further directed the premier to personally appear at the next hearing.

"On Monday Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf appeared on the directions of the court to defend (himself against) the show-cause notice issued to him. He explained his position, that the government has serious resolve and we want to implement the orders of the court and we need some more time," said Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.

"The court has adjourned the case till September 18 and the Prime Minister will appear in the court in person on September 18," Kaira told the media after the hearing.

During the hearing, the judges repeatedly asked the premier to give a commitment about approaching the Swiss authorities to reopen the graft cases against Zardari.

The bench said the premier should nominate a minister who could take up the matter with the Swiss authorities but Ashraf did not say anything in this regard.

Standing at the rostrum in courtroom number 2, Ashraf said he respected the judiciary and sought four to six weeks so that he could consult legal experts.

He said he had appeared in court just like his predecessor Gilani.

The government, Ashraf said, is committed to finding a solution to the issue that maintains the Apex Court's standing and dignity.

He further said that he did not want to stretch out the matter and was only interested in finding a "good solution".

Ashraf asked the bench to take back the show cause notice for contempt of court that was issued to him on August 8 as it could have an adverse impact on his upcoming visit to China.

However, the judges did not accede to his request.

Justice Khosa said the premier had come to the court not as an accused but as the premier of an honourable nation.

However, he remarked that appearing in court was not tantamount to respecting the judiciary and that proper respect could be shown by implementing the court's orders.

The bench suggested that the premier could task the Law Minister to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to revive the cases against the President but Ashraf did not make any commitment in this regard.

At this point, Justice Khosa remarked that if no commitment is given, the law would find its own solution.

Earlier this morning, the premier was driven to the main entrance of the Apex Court in a SUV shortly after 9 am to face the contempt charge.

Several federal ministers, including Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and leaders of the ruling coalition arrived in the court earlier to appear alongside the premier as a show of solidarity.

Both Kaira and Malik told reporters outside the court that the premier was appearing in the court as the ruling Pakistan People's Party had always respected the judiciary despite decisions that had gone against the party, including the "judicial murder" of PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The two ministers said they expected justice from the Supreme Court.

A meeting of leaders of the ruling coalition chaired by Zardari late last night decided that the premier would appear in court despite reservations expressed by several top PPP leaders.

A section of the party, including Gilani, was opposed to Ashraf’s appearance in the court as it believes that it would make no difference.

Extensive security measures were put in place for the premier’s appearance in the Apex Court.

About 700 policemen and additional personnel of the Pakistan Rangers and Frontier Corps were deployed to guard the "red zone" where the Supreme Court and other key buildings like the parliament are located.

A helicopter was used to conduct surveillance of the area.

The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to revive the cases against the President since December 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others.

The government has refused to act, saying the President enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad.


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