The Pakistani government came under attack from two angles Tuesday as the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the country's prime minister and a rowdy anti-government rally took place near the national parliament.
Even by the standards of Pakistan's often turbulent politics, it was a stormy day that ratcheted tensions ahead of national elections later this year.
The Supreme Court, which has clashed repeatedly with Pakistan's political leaders in recent years, issued the arrest order for Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and a number of other officials over allegations of illegal payments for electricity-generating projects when Ashraf was minister for water and power.
Speaking on local broadcaster Dunya News, Fawad Chaudhry, one of Ashraf's advisers, called the court's decision "a soft coup" against democracy. The prime minister has consistently denied the allegations, he said.
Rehman Malik, the country's interior minister, struck a defiant tone.
"Even after this order, (Ashraf) is the prime minister and, God willing, he will continue as prime minister."
But retired Adm. Fasih Bukhari, who is now the chairman of Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau, told reporters that the order of the court would be implemented.
Last year, the Supreme Court ousted Ashraf's predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a contempt case related to old corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari.
The Karachi Stock Exchange crashed Tuesday on the news of the Supreme Court action. The KSE shed 500 points in just 10 minutes.
The arrest order for Ashraf was music to the ears of supporters of Tahir ul Qadri, a Muslim cleric who wants Pakistan's leaders thrown out in favor of a caretaker government to bring about electoral reform and flush out corruption.
The demonstrators welcomed the court decision, chanting, "Long live the Supreme Court."
Just ahead of the court's announcement, Qadri, housed in a bulletproof container, addressed thousands of people gathered near the parliament in central Islamabad, singling out the judiciary and the military as the only two institutions that he said were functioning in Pakistan.
He had previously called on the civilian government to disband by Tuesday morning to allow the formation of the caretaker government. That deadline has passed, and he has urged his supporters to continue their demonstration in central Islamabad and to double their numbers each day.
Claims of a conspiracy
The timing of the arrest order against Ashraf appeared to play to Qadri's advantage.
A senior official of the governing Pakistan People's Party, which is headed by Zardari, called the court's decision "a conspiracy."
Speaking on Dunya News, Sharjeel Memon suggested the order had "a direct connection" with Qadri's movement.
Corruption is widely considered a chronic problem in Pakistan's political system; Zardari has served prison time on corruption charges.
And during his time as minister of water and power, Ashraf is accused of accepting kickbacks from power companies to approve expensive projects, known as Rental Power Projects, that in reality generated very little electricity.
Pakistan regularly grapples with chronic power outages, with its booming population putting a strain on the public power grid. So the government had to rely on private power producers.
Ashraf is alleged to have used the kickbacks from these private firms to buy property abroad. The accusations earned him the derisive nickname "Rental Raja," and the Supreme Court eventually stripped him of his former ministerial role.
If authorities follow through on the court's order and arrest Ashraf, he will remain prime minister for the time being, said Salman Akram Raja, a constitutional expert.
"The court hasn't convicted him; he is an accused at this stage," he said in an interview on local broadcaster Geo News.
The political drama set off by the Supreme Court followed unrest in Islamabad's streets earlier Tuesday.
Brief clashes took place between security forces and Qadri's supporters as the crowd moved into the area near the parliament where protests regularly take place.