Market traders strike in Pakistan over power bills and inflation

By Mubasher Bukhari and Saleem Ahmed

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Public markets across Pakistan stayed closed on Saturday due to a strike by retail associations over rising electricity prices and brisk inflation, as the country embarks on a tricky path to economic recovery.

A $3 billion loan programme, approved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July, averted a sovereign debt default in Pakistan but reforms linked to the bailout have fuelled annual inflation running at 27.4%.

"Today, traders are observing a shutter down strike across Pakistan against the over charging electricity tariff and unjustified taxes," Ashraf Bhatti, president of the All Pakistan Traders Association, told Reuters.

Major markets in Lahore and Karachi, Pakistan's two largest cities, remained shut on Saturday though grocery shops in populated neighbourhoods and medical stores stayed open.

In the southwestern city of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, public markets were shuttered all day for the protest, which was called by Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist opposition party and joined by traders' groups.

"It is the matter of the entire country as the common man is being badly affected," said Abdul Rehim Kakar, leader of a traders' association of Balochistan.

Worsening economic conditions, along with rising political tension ahead of a national election scheduled for November - but which is likely to be delayed, have triggered sporadic protests in recent weeks.

(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore, Saleem Ahmed in Quetta, Mushtaq Ali in Peshawar and Akhtar Soomro in Karachi; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Helen Popper)