The Pakistani Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of Raja Pervez Ashraf, the country's prime minister, in connection with a corruption case, officials say.
The court ordered the arrest of Ashraf on Tuesday morning, in case relating to contracts for the purchase of rental power plants by the federal government when Ashraf was the federal minister for water and power.
Ashraf, in his capacity as minister for water and power, "violated the principle of transparency, therefore, [his] involvement in getting financial benefits out of the same by indulging in corruption and corrupt practices cannot be overruled", the order said.
The supreme court ordered the arrest of 16 people, including Ashraf, and directed authorities to present him in court on Thursday, Aamir Abbas, a lawyer for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), said.
"The chief justice ordered that all concerned, regardless of their rank, who have been booked in the case be arrested and if someone leaves the country, then chairman of [anti-corruption watchdog] NAB will be held responsible along with his investigating team," Abbas said.
Fawad Chaudhry, an adviser to the PM, condemned the court's order, calling it "unconstitutional".
Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president and co-chairman of Ashraf's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), called a meeting of all parties of the ruling coalition in Karachi on Wednesday in the wake of the announcement.
"[Raja Pervez Ashraf] was the power and electricity minister and during that time he is said to have embezzled millions of dollars, the case was pending at the Supreme Court and the court therefore decided that the PM should be arrested immediately," Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder reported from Islamabad, the federal capital.
"There were serious accusations that the PM was directly involved as minister in siphoning off millions of dollars."
Tuesday's court order came as Tahir-ul-Qadri, a populist Muslim leader, demanded the resignation of the government in protests attended by thousands of followers in Islamabad.
His supporters welcomed the news, celebrating at their sit-in protest outside the parliament building.
Separately, Imran Khan, leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, announced that his party would call for nationwide protests if a caretaker government was not announced within eight days.
Pakistan's benchmark Karachi Stock Exchange index fell by nearly three per cent after the news of the supreme court order, highlighting investor anxiety over political uncertainty.
Yousuf Raza Gilani, the previous prime minister, was dismissed by the supreme court in April last year after being found guilty of committing contempt of court by refusing to send a letter to Swiss authorities related to corruption investigations against Zardari.