Gunmen kill two policeman guarding polio vaccination team in Pakistan

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Two officers guarding a polio vaccination team in northwest Pakistan were shot dead by unidentified assailants, police said Tuesday, the latest deaths in an ongoing campaign to eradicate the disease.

Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only countries where polio remains endemic, but vaccination teams have been targeted for years by extremists in both nations.

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“Two gunmen hiding near a small water channel opened fire on the policemen from a very close range,” senior officer Waqar Ahmad Khan told AFP.

“The gunmen spared the two-member polio vaccination team... and fled on a motorbike.”

The incident happened in Kot Azam, Tank district, close to tribal districts where the military has clashed with extremists since 2003.

Scores of polio workers and security officials guarding them have been killed since 2012 by militants who claim vaccination programs are part of a Western plot to sterilize Muslims.

Another conspiracy theory holds that the vaccines contain pig fat and are therefore banned by Muslims.

Opposition to inoculation campaigns grew after the CIA organized a fake vaccination drive to help track down al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

In April, Pakistan reported the first case of polio in 15 months.

Since then, 14 polio more cases have been reported-- all from the same ultra-conservative district where many villagers are against vaccines.

The United States reported its first case of polio in almost a decade in July, while Britain said last week that around one million children in London will be offered a booster vaccine after the virus was detected in sewage samples.

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