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World Briefs: U.N. polio vaccinations suspended after killings

- - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

PESHAWAR — The United Nations on Wednesday suspended its polio-vaccination drive in Pakistan after eight people involved in the effort were fatally shot in the past two days, a U.N. official said.

The suspension was a grave blow to the drive to bring an end to the scourge of polio in Pakistan, one of just three countries where the crippling disease survives.

On Wednesday, gunmen shot at a woman working on the campaign in northwestern Pakistan, killing her and her driver, one of five attacks during the day on polio workers. A male polio-immunization worker was critically wounded in one of the shootings.

This week, six other people have been killed who were working on the immunization program, which has been conducted jointly with the Pakistani government.

No one has claimed responsibility, but some Islamic extremists charge that the program is a cover for espionage.

MEXICO

22 killed in escape bid at northern prison

MEXICO CITY — A public security official said the death toll in a shootout during an attempted prison break in northern Mexico has risen to 22 people.

The official in Durango state said the toll rose to 13 inmates and nine prison guards as some of those injured in the shooting later died of their wounds.

Guards foiled a massive escape on Tuesday at the prison in Gomez Palacio city.

A statement from the public safety department said inmates tried to climb the prison's back walls. When guards fired into the air to stop them, inmates returned fire at the watchtowers and guard areas.

Authorities said Wednesday they were investigating how the inmates acquired the guns.

ALGERIA

French president wants new era with Algeria

ALGIERS — French President Francois Hollande announced a new era with Algeria on Wednesday — a strategic partnership among equals -- during a state visit to this North African nation, which once was a prized colony in the French empire.

The Socialist president's visit comes as Algeria celebrates 50 years of independence following a brutal seven-year war that ended 132 years of colonial rule. French ties with the gas-rich nation have been fraught with tension since its independence in 1962.

Large numbers of Algerians and some political parties have sought an apology from France for inequalities suffered by the population under colonial rule and for brutality during the war.

KAZAKHSTAN

Soyuz spacecraft heads for space station

BAIKONUR — A Soyuz spacecraft carrying an American, a Russian and a Canadian headed Wednesday for the International Space Station, where they will spend four months carrying out dozens of experiments.

The spacecraft launched from a Russian-leased manned-space facility in the frigid steppes of Kazakhstan at 6:12 p.m. It took off atop a Russian rocket and went into orbit about 15 minutes later.

American Tom Marshburn, Russian Roman Romanenko and Canadian Chris Hadfield will travel two days in the capsule before docking with the mammoth space station, where three other people already are onboard.

BRAZIL

Authorities to probe charges against ex-leader

BRASILIA — Brazil's attorney general said Wednesday he will look into allegations that popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva knew about a massive cash-for-votes scheme in Congress that led to the recent convictions of 25 people in a landmark trial.

Roberto Gurgel said he will examine statements by businessman Marcos Valerio that Mr. da Silva approved of the so-called "mensalao" monthly payout scheme and used cash from it for personal expenses while in office. Mr. da Silva denies the allegations.

Valerio was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison and fined $1.3 million for being what the Supreme Court called the "operator" of the scheme, which gave legislators cash handouts in return for their support of Mr. da Silva's policies after he took office in 2003.

Valerio made the claims against Mr. da Silva in testimony to federal prosecutors in September, after he had been convicted but before he was sentenced.

ISRAEL

$500 million in checks left at holy site

JERUSALEM — Worshippers usually leave notes to the Almighty at one of Judaism's holiest sites. But half a billion dollars?

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who oversees Jerusalem's Western Wall, said a worshipper found an envelope at the site Wednesday with 507 checks in the amount of about $1 million each. They were not addressed to anyone, and it's doubtful they can be cashed.

Rabbi Rabinovitch said most are Nigerian. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some were from the United States, Europe and Asia.

Rabbi Rabinovitch said he has found similar checks in Western Wall charity boxes before, but they all bounced. Most of them were written by people from Africa.

The rabbi said he thinks the check writers "wanted to give all they had to the Creator of the universe."

From wire dispatches and staff reports