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Saturday, September 4, 1999 Published at 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK


World: South Asia

Pakistan shuts down at strike call

Heavy police deployment prevented violent outbreaks

There has been a widespread response across Pakistan to a strike call by traders angry at a proposed new sales tax.

The streets were virtually empty in the city of Karachi; shops closed despite police attempts to persuade them to stay open.


The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Karachi: "The government has been concerned about this strike"
Traders accuse the government of giving in to the International Monetary Fund, which wants Pakistan to widen its tax base.

The BBC Islamabad correspondent says the strike comes at a time when the opposition is becoming more united in its campaign to topple the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Shutters downed

Shops and bazaars were shut in major towns across Pakistan, amid massive police deployment.


[ image: Streets were empty as shops remained shut]
Streets were empty as shops remained shut
Reports say the strike was near total in the provinces of Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province. Traders in Mr Sharif's home province of Punjab also supported the call.

In Karachi, capital of Sindh province, paramilitary forces armed with automatic weapons patrolled the streets but no violence was reported.

The traders' protest coincided with a general strike in Sindh organised by opposition parties. It is the latest in a series of anti-government protests in recent weeks.

Opposition rally

On Friday, thousands of police were deployed in Karachi to prevent an opposition rally from going through.

Reports said a small group of supporters from the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) managed to get through police cordons to reach a meeting addressed by party leaders.

Earlier, police were shot dead two people said to be MQM members.

IMF pressure

Pakistan is planning to introduce a 15% sales tax under pressure from the International Monetary Fund.

It is part of a series of fiscal measures that the Pakistan government agreed to, ahead of an expected IMF $280m loan tranche.

Last year, the IMF's $1.5bn lending programme was frozen following Pakistan's nuclear tests.

IMF support is crucial to Pakistan's economic recovery, as it battles a rising fiscal deficit and heavy debt burden.





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