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Court serves ultimatum to Pakistan PM

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Raja Pervez Ashraf replaced Gilani last month after he was forced to step down for ignoring a court order [Reuters]Pakistan's Supreme Court has asked the country's newly elected prime minister to urge Swiss authorities to re-open a corruption investigation against President Asif Ali Zardari or face court action like his predeccessor.

Raja Pervez Ashraf became prime minister last month, after Yousuf Raza Gilani was forced to step down for ignoring a similar court order.

Judge Asif Saeed Khosa said on Thursday that the prime minister was "bound to implement the relevant directions of this court," just like his predecessor, whom the court last month dismissed for contempt for refusing to obey its order.

Khosa ordered Ashraf to submit a report on July 25 "regarding compliance... failing which this court may initiate any appropriate action under the constitution and the law".

It appears the judiciary is unwilling to end a showdown with the coalition government, which could force elections before February 2013 when it would become the first in Pakistan to complete an elected, full five-year mandate.

The judiciary has been trying for years to force the administration to reopen multi-million-dollar corruption cases against President Zardari, which its critics have likened to a personal vendetta campaign.

After dismissing Yousuf Raza Gilani on June 19, it gave Ashraf two weeks to indicate whether he would write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases which were shelved in 2008 when Zaradri became president.

The allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, when he and his late wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, are suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder $12m allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts.

The government insists the president has full immunity, but in 2009 the court overturned a political amnesty that froze investigations into the president and other politicians, ordering that the cases be reopened.

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