Pakistan's supreme court dismissed Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, two months after it had convicted him of contempt for failing to reopen a corruption investigation against President Asif Ali Zardari.
The court's action has created uncertainty over the stability of the government in Islamabad.
Mr. Zardari was expected to name a new prime minister within 24 hours. He recommended four people, including the country's 34-year-old foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, according to sources in Pakistan who spoke on background.
The court ruled Mr. Gilani "ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan" on April 26, the date on which he was convicted. Mr. Gilani did not appeal that order.
"Since no appeal was filed against this judgment, the conviction has attained finality," ruled a three-judge panel led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
"With effect from [April 26] the office of the prime minister shall be deemed to be vacant," the court ruled.
It also disqualified Mr. Gilani from serving in parliament and instructed Pakistan's election commission to issue a notice announcing his disqualification.
The court also asked Mr. Zardari "to take necessary steps under the constitution to ensure continuation of the democratic process through parliamentary system of government in the country."
The case focused on a corruption probe by the Swiss government against Mr. Zardari, which was dropped in 2008 after an amnesty gave the president immunity from such investigations.
The court had instructed Mr. Gilani to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases against Mr. Zardari.
Imran Khan, who leads the opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, welcomed the court's decision.
"PTI will stand by [the supreme court] & its decisions," Mr. Khan wrote on Twitter.
The court ruling adds to the woes of a government already grappling with violent protests of the country's worsening electricity crisis with outages in some areas lasting up to 18 hours a day.
It also caps a tumultuous month in which businessman Malik Riaz claimed he had given $3.7 million to Justice Chaudhury's son, Arsalan Iftikhar, to get favorable court rulings.
It was not clear what effect the dismissal of the prime minister will have on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, which has become increasingly strained in the past 18 months. The period has been marked by the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis in January 2011 in the killing of two Pakistanis; the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a U.S. commando raid in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad in May 2011; a NATO attack on Pakistani border posts about six months later; and the conviction by a Pakistani court of a doctor who helped the CIA track down bin Laden.
Pakistan has demanded an apology for the NATO attack in which 24 of its soldiers were killed. The Obama administration has expressed regret but stopped short of issuing an apology.
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