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