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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 by Giant Savings” href=”#”>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.

The Supreme Court order says the prime minister and the others should be arrested and produced before court within 24 hours.

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 by Giant Savings” href=”#”>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.