Counterfeit alcohol kills 19 in Istanbul

Glass of rakiCounterfeit alcohol has killed 19 people in Istanbul in the last few days, with the finger of blame pointing to bottles of the national liquor raki.

All told, 89 people have been admitted to hospital after drinking the counterfeit spirit, and 15 of these are dangerously ill, according to local press reports. The counterfeit raki - an aniseed-flavoured liquor - contained dangerously high levels of methanol (also known as methyl alcohol).

Ingesting methanol can lead to damage to the eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system and gastrointestinal tracts, with high levels of exposure leading to coma and death, mainly caused by CNS damage.

The incident has sparked criticism of the Turkish government's tax policy, which means that genuine raki is priced at up to 40 lira (around $14) while the bootleg bottles can be had for as little as 5 lira, according to national newspaper Hurriyet.

Police have seized thousands of bottles and detained 21 people as they investigate the incident, with those under investigation including producers, suppliers, and sellers of raki. The counterfeits are thought to have been manufactured within Turkey, rather than imported from elsewhere.

In 2012, 25 people were killed in the Czech Republic by methanol poisoning linked to counterfeit vodka, and in 2013 tainted alcohol killed 42 people in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Previously, another bootleg raki incident in Turkey claimed the lives of 22 people, while another incident in 2009 led to the death of one student and hospitalised several others.

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