Pakistani Prime Minister Refuses To Step Down After Conviction

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan on Friday refused to step down following his conviction for contempt by the Supreme Court, saying that only parliament had the right to force him from office.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan on Friday refused to step down following his conviction for contempt by the Supreme Court, saying that only parliament had the right to force him from office.

"No one can disqualify me besides you, madame speaker, and this parliament," Gilani said, addressing Fehmida Mirza, speaker of the National Assembly.

He also rejected calls for his resignation from opposition leaders, who have said his conviction damages Pakistan's credibility.

"If they have the courage, they should bring a vote of no confidence against me," he said in parliament, his first public appearance since he was found guilty on Thursday.

The Supreme Court convicted Gilani of contempt of court after his repeated refusals to ask Swiss authorities to revive old corruption charges against the country's president, Asif Ali Zardari.

The verdict was the culmination of a confrontation between the court justices and the civilian government that lasted nearly two years. It makes Gilani the first sitting Pakistani prime minister to be convicted of a crime. But it is unclear if it will lead to his ouster.

Gilani's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, on Thursday said that Pakistan's constitution stipulates that a member of parliament can only be disqualified after a conviction and a prison sentence of at least two years.

The Supreme Court did not sentence Gilani to time behind bars but delivered a symbolic sentence by keeping him in custody for the duration of the hearing which lasted only several minutes.

His eligibility to remain Pakistan's prime minister will be decided by the speaker of parliament, and possibly the election commission, in a process that could take months.

Gilani and his lawyers have argued that the prime minister did not follow the court's order to press for the reopening of the corruption charges, which date from the 1990's, because Zardari enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad as a president in office.

"What is my crime?" Gilani said asked during his defiant appearance in parliament on Friday. "I have protected the constitution of this country.