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Pakistani Clerics Condemn Attacks on Polio Workers

Villagers look at the body of health worker Hilal Khan, who was killed by gunmen in Wahidgari, outside of Peshawar, Pakistan, Dec. 20, 2012.
An alliance of Pakistani clerics on Thursday condemned the attacks on U.N.-backed anti-polio teams in Pakistan, as the death toll from the violence rose to nine.

Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, head of the moderate Pakistan Ulema Council, said in an interview with VOA's Urdu service that his alliance will pass a resolution praising everyone working in Pakistan to eradicate polio.

“Girls [female health workers] have been attacked. Polio workers have been attacked. We will condemn these crimes during Friday prayers all over the country and pass a resolution praising the girls and those working for [the] eradication of polio.”

Most of the victims have been women.

The ninth victim of the attacks died on Thursday. Pakistani health official Janbaz Afridi said Mohammad Hilal was shot in the head Wednesday in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral.

Hilal was part of a nationwide polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan that was suspended on Wednesday by U.N. officials following a series of attacks over three days that left eight volunteers dead.

The decision came after gunmen opened fire on three vaccination teams scattered across northwestern Pakistan Wednesday. Earlier in the week, attacks in Peshawar and Karachi killed six people and wounded several others.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

But the Pakistani Taliban has prevented such programs in the past. The militant group says polio vaccination efforts are a cover for spying, and that they are meant to sterilize Muslims or are dangerous for children.

The Taliban began voicing opposition to Western-backed health programs after a Pakistani doctor was imprisoned for helping U.S. intelligence agents run a fake hepatitis vaccination program aimed at locating then-fugitive al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

In July, armed men killed a Pakistani doctor working for the World Health Organization on a national immunization campaign.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries were polio remains endemic.