Pakistan's government put the nation's clocks forward by an hour and ordered stores to close early to ease electricity shortages that are curbing economic growth and stoking unrest in the South Asian country.
The change will give the nation an extra hour of daylight in the evening until the end of August as a 4,500 megawatt shortfall causes power outages that have shut factories and last week triggered riots in the commercial capital, Karachi.
Shopping centers were told to close at 9 p.m., billboard lights face restrictions and air conditioning will be switched off in all government offices for the first three hours of the working day, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
The coalition government has been criticized by business leaders for failing to tackle the power crisis, food shortages and spiraling inflation as party leaders wrangle over how to reinstate judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf.
“The political problems haven't given the government the opportunity to focus on economic issues that are compounding with every passing day,'' said Ishtiaq Ahmad, associate professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. ``If the government is able to improve power supplies by conserving energy, it will be seen as a first economic relief measure.”'
Major cities, including Karachi, lose power for as much as eight hours a day. Riots frequently break out as people take to the streets, burning tires and shouting anti-government slogans.
The government aims to save 500 megawatts of electricity through the energy conservation plan, APP reported. It will buy 1 million energy saver light bulbs, with the support of the World Bank, to promote their use in the country.
Half the nation of 163 million people can't afford sufficient food because of soaring cereal prices, according to the United Nations, and fights break out regularly among people waiting to buy subsidized flour and other staples.
The government forecasts growth will slow to 6 percent this fiscal year, from the annual average of 7.5 percent over the past four years, after months of political turmoil.
The government's special envoy, M.B. Abbasi, arrived in Washington yesterday to seek U.S. help in overcoming wheat shortages in Pakistan, APP said.
He will meet with U.S. lawmakers, including Senate Agricultural Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, and members of the Pakistani American community, according to the report.
Pakistan's key stock index tumbled 20 percent last month and a group of stockbrokers flew to Islamabad last week to call on the coalition to take action to restore confidence.
“There is the perception that nobody is actually in command to address the real issues and take the country forward,”' Habib-ur-Rehman, chief executive of Atlas Asset Management Co. in Karachi, said last week.
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