Embattled Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani yesterday made a personal appearance in the Supreme Court to come out in defence of corruption-tainted President Asif Ali Zardari.

The constitution provides immunity to the president, Gilani told a seven-member bench during a seven-minute submission in the court even as a large number of ruling party supporters shouted slogans outside.

Yousuf Raza Gilani

The case will now be heard on February 1, giving breathing time to the 59-year-old prime minister who has also run foul of the powerful army after sacking the defence secretary, Lt. Gen. (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi.

Former president Pervez Musharraf, who was to return to Pakistan by January-end, postponed his arrival in view of the 'emerging political developments'.

There was high drama as Gilani himself drove down to the court, and was mobbed by boisterous activists of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Gilani was on the defensive before the judges, insisting he would never even dream of challenging a judicial fiat.
Outside, he looked confident as he waved to supporters, both while entering the court and later.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said yesterday was a great day for Pakistan.

Gilani told the bench, "It will not give a good message to proceed against a president who is elected by a two-thirds majority. I have discussed this with my friends and experts, and they agree he has got complete immunity," a paper quoted him as saying.

The court had issued Gilani a contempt notice on January 16. Gilani said he had spent six years in prison and had never been reluctant to appear before the court.

"All over the world presidents enjoy immunity. (The) constitution of Pakistan also provides immunity to the president. That is why we did not write to Swiss authorities."

Gilani's lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan said the graft cases against Zardari could be reopened once he was no longer the president.

He sought a month's time to file a response. Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said that access to records could be provided in two days.

The court exempted Gilani from appearing for the next hearing.