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    Pakistani government chided for ‘Drink less tea, save money’ plea

    ISLAMABAD (AP) – A minister in Pakistan’s newly elected government faced criticism Wednesday following his plea to the nation to drink less tea to help save on imports amid a deepening economic crisis.

    Pakistan is among the world’s top tea importers, a hugely popular drink among both the rich and the poor in this country of 220 million people. The government spends about USD600 million from the central bank’s hard currency reserves for tea imports annually.

    A Pakistani is believed to drink at least three cups of tea a day on average, the nation’s caffeinated drink of choice.

    Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who took over in April after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament, has pledged to improve the ailing economy and meet conditions set by the International Monetary Fund in an effort to revive a USD6 billion bailout package.

    Still, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s appeal to drink less tea surprised many.

    A boy works at a tea shop in Peshawar, Pakistan. PHOTO: AP

    “I appeal to the people to reduce their tea drinking by one or two cups a day because we also borrow money for the tea, which is imported,” Iqbal said at a press conference on Tuesday.

    Some have openly advised Iqbal on social media to resign.

    “Yesterday Ahsan Iqbal asked us to consume less tea and tomorrow they may say eat less.

    Is it a solution?” asked Dil Sher, who owns a roadside tea stall on the outskirts of Islamabad.

    The government has so far hiked the price of fuel, natural gas and electricity by up to 45 per cent, sending food prices soaring. Last week, Sharif’s Cabinet presented its first budget to Parliament for approval, levying more taxes on the rich and vowing to remove subsidies on energy and fuel as demanded by the IMF.

    To the shock of many Pakistanis, Sharif’s government at midnight announced the third hike of PKR24 in the price of petrol in the past three weeks, taking it to about PKR234 per litre.

    Petrol was available at about PKR150 per litre in Pakistan when Khan was ousted in April.

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