Turkey hit by another illicit alcohol incident as deaths top 50

Another mass poisoning caused by illicit alcohol in Turkey has claimed 50 lives in the space of two weeks, with numbers continuing to rise.

The outbreak has been linked to bootleg alcohol, laced with toxic methanol, that is being produced and sold in several provinces across Turkey. There have been half a dozen more deaths in the space of the last 24 hours.

Most of the fatalities (22) have occurred in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, but the poisonings are widespread with cases in the provinces of Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Sivas, Yalova, Erzincan, Aksaray, Mersin, Kocaeli and Zonguldak in the last few days, according to a report in the Hurriyet news service. It has been reported that 11 of the Istanbul deaths were among foreign nationals.

Last year, another illicit alcohol outbreak claimed more than 80 lives, with hundreds of people questioned in investigations trying to identify the criminal networks behind the production and sale.

Methanol contamination can cause serious side effects including blindness and paralysis when ingested even in fairly small quantities. Serious health complications can also occur however even in the absence of the chemical, for example if ethyl alcohol is present in dangerously high proportions.

So why is Turkey so prone to these poisoning events? Several local media outlets say the problem of illicit alcohol is being compounded hefty tax increases on alcoholic beverages, which now being accompanied by massive rises in consumer prices in Turkey.

Inflation is driving up prices of legitimate alcoholic products and driving people to consume bootleg and counterfeit liquor.

There have been calls for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to raise interest rates to try to reduce inflation, estimated at around 21 per cent at the moment, but so far he has resisted the move, claiming that to do so would make the inflation worse.

That runs counter to most economist's thinking, and many countries around the world have been raising rates to try to counter price increases.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has gone in the other direction, cutting the cost of borrowing, and the president has said he intends to cut rates even further in the coming days to stimulate exports, investments and employment.

Tusiad – Turkey's largest business association - urged the government to return to the "established rules of economic science" over the weekend, but were slapped down by Erdogan.

Meanwhile, the Turkish lira continues to plummet against the dollar, euro and sterling to all-time lows, which is contributing to price increases, particularly for imported goods.

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