Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif has stepped down after the supreme court disqualified him from holding office over allegations of corruption and ordered criminal charges to be filed against him and his family.
A five-judge panel said in a unanimous decision that Mr Sharif was disqualified for not remaining "truthful and honest" after considering evidence against him.
It also ruled that thrice-elected Mr Sharif could no longer serve as a member of the National Assembly, a powerful lower house of the parliament.
The court directed the country’s anti-corruption body to file corruption charges against Mr Sharif, his two sons and daughter in the next six weeks for concealing their assets.
The panel also ordered corruption charges filed against finance minister Ishaq Dar, a close relative of Mr Sharif.
Mr Sharif’s party expressed its disappointment over the court order.
Information minister Maryam Aurangzeb said their Pakistan Muslim League ruling party will issue a detailed reaction after consulting Mr Sharif’s advisers.
The court asked President Mamnoon Hussain to "ensure continuation of the democratic process".
Mr Hussain is expected to convene the National Assembly once Mr Sharif’s ruling party nominates his successor.
After the court’s ruling, Mr Sharif consulted party leaders on nominating a candidate to replace him. That person will serve as prime minister until March 2018, when the next general elections will be held.
The supreme court asked the election commission of Pakistan to issue notification of Mr Sharif’s removal.
However, Mr Sharif quickly stepped down, saying he did it to show respect for the country’s judiciary. In a statement, Mr Sharif’s office said justice had not been served.
His resignation has created a murky legal mess with constitutional experts at a loss to explain who is in charge in Pakistan until his successor is nominated. It was not immediately clear when that would be or who it would be.
Legal experts say Mr Sharif will now nominate someone to replace him under constitutional rules. They say Mr Sharif’s nominee will be elected by the National Assembly, where the ruling party enjoys a majority.
It is not the first time Pakistan’s judiciary has ordered the dismissal of an elected prime minister. In 2012, the court convicted the then-premier Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.
The current case against Mr Sharif and his family dates back to 2016, when documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm indicated that Mr Sharif’s sons owned several offshore companies.
Mr Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz at the time acknowledged owning offshore companies but insisted they used legal money to set up businesses abroad.
However, the court-appointed investigators in July concluded a significant disparity existed between the Sharif family’s declared wealth and its known sources of income.
Opposition MPs, who petitioned the court for the disqualification of Mr Sharif, welcomed the decision, saying it was a victory for justice.
Opposition leader Imran Khan congratulated the nation over Mr Sharif’s removal and announced a celebration of the legal battle against the "corrupt ruling elite" would be held in Islamabad on Sunday.
Sirajul Haq, who heads Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami party, told reporters that he had been fighting a legal battle to ensure the accountability of the "corrupt ruling elite".
Mr Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz said in a tweet that the prime minister was sent home, "but only to see him return with greater force".
She asked her party to "stay strong".