Polio vaccine workers gunned down in Pakistan

Six anti-polio campaign workers have been shot dead by suspected Taliban gunmen in Pakistan.

The killings came a day after a volunteer for the World Health Organisation's anti-polio campaign was shot dead in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi.

Five of the polio workers killed today were also in Karachi. Four were women.

The attacks were well-coordinated and occurred simultaneously in three different areas of the city, said police.

The government suspended the vaccination campaign in the wake of the shootings. It started yesterday and was supposed to run until Wednesday.

Gunmen on a motorcycle also shot dead a woman working on a government anti-polio campaign in a village near Peshawar.

The Taliban have spoken out against polio vaccination in recent months, claiming the health workers are acting as spies for the US and the vaccine itself causes harm. Militants in parts of Pakistan's tribal region have also said the vaccination campaign cannot go forward until the US stops drone attacks in the country.

The shootings in Karachi all took place in areas mainly populated by ethnic Pashtuns. The Taliban are a Pashtun-dominated movement, and many militants are reported to be hiding in these communities in Karachi.

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is endemic. The virus usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions, attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyse.

The government, teaming up with UN agencies, is on a nationwide campaign to give oral polio drops to 34 million children under the age of five.

But vaccination programs, especially those with international links, have come under suspicion in the country since a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination programme last year to help the CIA track down Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile two men on a motorcycle hurled hand grenades at the main gate of an army recruiting centre in north-western Pakistan wounding 10 people.

The injured in the attack in the garrison town of Risalpur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa included civilians and security personnel.

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