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Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of PM Raja Pervez Ashraf and 15 others over corruption allegations, as a populist cleric led thousands of protesters in Islamabad, demanding that the government resign.
Mr Ashraf denies accepting bribes when approving power generation projects as minister for water and power in 2010.There was a mood of mass euphoria as the news of the court’s order reached demonstrators, led by Tahirul Qadri.
The cleric has said he wants the military and judiciary to be involved in installing a caretaker government to oversee the forthcoming elections Some jumped for joy and others hugged, some crying.
There was no immediate statement from the government following the arrest order. President Asif Zardari was holding a meeting of leading figures in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Karachi, according to state broadcaster PTV.
Mr Ashraf is set to lead the party into general elections due in May. Most observers say they expect the balance of power in the forthcoming parliamentary polls to broadly stay the same unless turnout is high, which could allow minor parties to translate popular support into seats.
Mr Ashraf has long been a senior figure in the PPP, and has twice been a minister in the government which has been in power since 2008.
French troops are taking part in operations against Islamists in northern Mali, Francois Hollande has confirmed.
“Mali is facing an assault by terrorist elements coming from the north whose brutality and fanaticism is known across the world,” the French president said. He said Mali’s existence as a state was under threat, and referred to the need to protect its own population and 6,000 French citizens living there. France ruled Mali as a colony until 1960.
The French President said the intervention complied with international law, and had been agreed with Malian President Dioncounda Traore. A state of emergency has been declared across the country.
Mr Traore used a televised address on Friday to call on Malians to unite to “free every inch” of the country.
He said he was to launch a “powerful and massive riposte against our enemies” after he “called for and obtained France’s air support within the framework of the international legality”.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the aim of the operation was to stop Islamist militants advancing any further.
“We need to stop the terrorists’ breakthrough, otherwise the whole of Mali will fall into their hands threatening all of Africa, and even Europe,”
The UN had previously approved plans to send some 3,000 African troops to Mali to recapture the north if no political solution could be found, but that intervention was not expected to happen until September.
Late on Thursday, an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called for the rapid deployment of an African-led force.
The EU also said it would support the rapid deployment of an African-led mission and speed up preparations for a military training mission