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Pakistani Clerics Want Protests Against Killings

Antipolio campaign worker Hilal Khan, who was shot and badly injured by unidentified gunmen
Some of Pakistan's most influential Islamic clerics are calling for nationwide protests December 21 against the killings of healthcare workers who were attempting to administer polio vaccines.

The head of the Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi said some 24,000 mosques associated with his organization would preach against the killings of healthcare workers during Friday prayers.

Ashrafi said "neither Pakistani customs nor Islam would endorse this, far from doing wrong these girls are martyrs for Islam because they were doing a service to humanity and Islam."

He added that Pakistan's leading Islamic groups had endorsed the campaign.

"All big Islamic organizations have passed a 'fatwa' (Islamic ruling) in favor of the polio campaign," Ashrafi said, "Whoever says that this campaign is un-Islamic is saying something that is totally un-Islamic."

Nine polio workers, mostly young women, have been killed in Pakistan this week prompting authorities to suspend the vaccination campaign in some areas of the country.

Islamic extremists claim the campaign is a front for U.S. spies and point to Shakil Afrifi, a Pakistani physician who helped U.S. intelligence establish a fake vaccine program in Abbotabad, the hideout of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Afridi's work helped ascertain the presence of bin Laden in Abbotabad leading to the U.S. Special Forces raid that killed the Al-Qaeda leader in 2011.

Ashrafi insisted that there is a big difference between Afridi and the healthcare workers killed in Pakistan this week.

"Whatever Shakil Afridi did was treason against his country and against his profession," he said. "But that certainly does not mean that you can kill innocent people to avenge that, or that you can say that we would much rather let our children become cripples."

Maulana Asadullah Farooq of Lahore's Jamia Manzur Islamia, one of the biggest madrassahs, or Islamic theological schools, in Pakistan said he had also put out a call for the protest at Pakistani madrassahs.

"We are also passing a resolution condemning the barbaric and uncivilized attacks and those who carried out the attacks," he said.

He added, "the killers of these girls are not worthy of being called Muslims or human beings."

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Ashrafi noted that the girls participating in the antipolio vaccination program were paid the equivalent of just $2 per day.

"They were there because of their essential goodness," he said, "think of what their families are going through."

With reporting from Reuters and dpa
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