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Pakistan’s top court rejects call to disqualify Prime Minister over corruption allegations

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday has ruled there was insufficient evidence to order Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s removal from office over corruption allegations levelled by the opposition, but it ordered further investigations.

A verdict to dismiss Sharif would have left his party in power but would have brought turmoil at a time when Pakistan is experiencing modest growth and improved security, and the civilian government and powerful military have appeared to come to uneasy terms.

Two of five judges on the court bench recommended Sharif should step down, saying he was dishonest “to the nation as well as to the parliament”, but they were out voted.

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Presenting its 549-page judgment amid tight security in the capital Islamabad, the court ordered a joint investigation team be formed to look into allegations around three of Sharif’s four children using offshore companies to buy properties in London.

The team has two months to complete its inquiry, after which a special bench will decide what action to take, the court said in a ruling that opens with the epigraph from Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather”: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime”.

The prime minister and his children deny any wrongdoing.

Pakistan’s stock market jumped after the court’s decision with the benchmark index .KSE closing up 2.39 percent. Sharif is seen as pro-business.

Analysts and opposition politicians said the ruling was a blow to Sharif’s credibility and the inquiry’s findings could yet weaken the prime minister as he heads into a general election, due by May 2018.

But for now, Sharif and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, are celebrating.

Sharif’s daughter and his presumptive political heir, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, posted a photo on Twitter of the family welcoming the court’s decision.

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“We are ready for all kinds of investigation,” Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters outside the court.

The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family’s offshore wealth after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened protests after the leaking of the “Panama Papers”.

“The prime minister should immediately resign at least for the 60 days until JIT completes its work,” Khan told reporters, referring to the joint investigation team. “What moral grounds does he have to continue in office?”

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China conduct live fire drill along southeast coastline

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BEIJING — China’s military has conducted live-fire drills along the southeast coastline, state television reported, but it was unclear if these were the same exercises that had been flagged as taking place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to China’s coast but that Taiwan has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwan leaders related to what China fears are moves to push for the self-ruled island’s formal independence. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory.

Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television showed footage of helicopters firing missiles during an exercise it said was happening on China’s southeast coast.

State television only showed pictures of helicopters, with no mention of ships or other military equipment such as tanks or amphibious assault vehicles.

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The exercises took place from 8 a.m. (0000GMT) until midnight, the report said, giving the same time frame for the previously announced drills in the Taiwan Strait.

The Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exercise, and whether it was the same ones previously reported to be happening in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan on Wednesday denounced the exercises, saying Beijing was using “cheap verbal intimidation and saber rattling” to threaten the island.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday afternoon two Chinese H-6K bombers had flown around the island, passing first through the Miyako Strait to Taiwan’s northeast and then back to base via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.

China claims Taiwan as its own and considers it a breakaway province.

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