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Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in a corruption case Tuesday, dramatically raising the stakes in a standoff between the government and its opponents.
The order came as preacher-turned-politician Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri addressed thousands of supporters outside parliament and repeated calls for the government's ouster.
The two events stoked growing speculation that Pakistan's military was quietly supporting moves that would delay general elections, most likely through the imposition of a military-backed caretaker administration.
In its order, the Supreme Court asked the National Accountability Bureau to arrest Ashraf and 15 other senior current or former officials.
The case relates to allegations that Ashraf took lakhs of rupees in kickbacks as part of a deal to build two power plants as minister for water and power between March 2008 and February 2011. In March 2012, the court had ruled the power plants were illegal, ordered their closure, and instituted proceedings against Ashraf.
Fawad Chaudhry, a senior adviser to Ashraf, said that any attempt to arrest the prime minister would be "illegal and unconstitutional".