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Crisis in Pakistan as court orders arrest of prime minister

As Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the country's president on corruption charges, protestors gathered calling for the resignation of members of the government. ITV's Jonathan Rugman reports from Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan was plunged into a fresh political crisis Tuesday after its judiciary ordered the arrest of the prime minister over corruption allegations amid ongoing public protests.

The country’s Supreme Court ordered the detention of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and others accused of involvement in kickbacks over the construction of power stations  -- a surprise development in an ongoing investigation.

It comes as tens of thousands of protesters occupy streets in the capital, Islamabad, demanding the resignation of the entire government.

Muhammed Muheisen / AP

Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

The demonstrators have pledged to remain on the streets in support of a populist cleric, who some allege is backed by the military.

The court's decision is likely to underline the demands of of Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, who is seeking a crackdown on corruption and other reforms.

Thousands of of his supporters marched on the city Monday, promising to join the local demonstrators to establish a local version of Cairo's Tahrir Square in a bid to oust the government.

Ashraf is nicknamed 'Raja Rental' by local media because of his alleged involvement in corruption over the introduction of so-called 'rental power plants' - independently-owned plants that sold energy to the state in a bid to close a growing demand-supply gap. 

Ashraf was the water and power minister at the time of their introduction. The schemes were ruled illegal by a court 12 months ago because of a lack of transparency,

He is the second prime minister installed by the regime of President Zardari - and the second to face a court order. The first, Yousuf Gillani, was removed by the Supreme Court last year for his failure to investigate corruption allegations against Zardari.

Leading Pakistan constitutional lawyer Salman Raja told NBC News he believed Ashraf would remain prime minister, "even in jail."

"He is not likely to be convicted anytime soon," he said."With his arrest the entire democratic project will suffer. And Mr. Qadri's theme will get underlined, conveniently."

He also questioned the timing of the court's announcement, coming amid the major public protests. "They could have done made this order next week. or three months ago, but they chose to pass it here, today."