Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Four polio vaccinators shot dead in southwest Pakistan............

QUETTA: Gunmen killed four members of a polio vaccination team in Pakistan's restive southwest on Wednesday, and one survivor recounted screaming at police and dozens of passers-by for help before it finally arrived. 

The attack -- the latest in a series by militants in Pakistan -- happened on the eastern outskirts of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. 

Thousands of other polio vaccinators will refuse to go back to work unless they are assured of greater security, a representative said. 

"A team of seven polio workers was getting ready to launch the fourth and final day of the campaign when two men riding a motorbike opened fire on their vehicle," provincial home secretary Akbar Durrani told AFP. 

The vaccination team leader, who wished to be identified by her first name 'Rubi', said the driver of her minivan fled when the men on the motorbike pulled out in front and flashed a gun. 

"Then they started firing from the front, I received bullets and fell down, I was bleeding. Then they went to the side of the vehicle and started firing," she said, 

Rubi and others got out of the minivan after the gunmen fled the scene -- but minutes passed before they could flag down help. 

"I was bleeding and feeling so weak but I struggled to get down and saw a policemen nearby. I screamed for help but he walked away and disappeared down a street," she said. 

"I kept on screaming, begging for help but vehicles wouldn't stop." A motorcycle rider finally came to their aid. But two more workers, a husband and wife, died of their injuries on their way to hospital. 

The attack was later condemned by federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid, who said militants would not succeed in their "nefarious designs". 

Haleem Shah, president of the Polio Workers Association of Baluchistan, said his colleagues would not go back to work until they were assured of greater security. 

"The government provides security for one day and if nothing bad happens then they take the security back," he said. 

"We are in contact with the government and we have demanded that we won't participate in the campaign until we are provided security." 

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio remains endemic. Attempts to stamp it out have been badly hit by opposition from militants and attacks on immunisation teams, which have claimed more than 60 lives in the last two years. 

District health officer Sher Muhammad said the campaign was launched in eight districts of Baluchistan including Quetta three days ago. 

"It was the last day of the campaign to administer drops to the remaining children," he said, adding that the campaign was stopped in Quetta after the attack. 

The militants have in the past claimed that the polio vaccination is a cover for espionage or a Western conspiracy to sterilise Muslims. 

Opposition to immunisation increased after the US Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated a fake vaccination campaign to help catch Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden. 

Officials say the number of polio cases recorded in Pakistan has reached 246 for the year -- a 14-year high and more than double the total for the whole of 2013. 

Among the new cases detected, 136 are in the troubled northwestern tribal areas that border Afghanistan and are the stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. 

The outbreak led the World Health Organization earlier this year to ask Pakistan to impose mandatory vaccinations on travellers leaving the country. 

Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest but least developed and most sparsely populated province, is racked by Islamist militants, banditry, a separatist revolt and sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.