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Turkey reports more deaths in bootleg methyl raki wave

At least 18 people have died in Turkey after drinking bootleg liquor. The victims consumed raki, Turkey's aniseed-flavored national drink, that authorities believe was infused with lethal quantities of methyl alcohol.

The death toll from tainted raki in Turkey continues to grow, with at least 18 people dying from the bootleg liquor. Another 15 people remain in critical condition in an Istanbul hospital after drinking the aniseed-flavored alcohol, the private NTV television reported on Sunday.

Police arrested at least 14 people on Saturday and charged them with involuntary homicide while seizing thousands of bottles in several operations across the country, media reported. One of the suspects, identified as Hikmet B., told prosecutors that his distributors had "duped" him, selling him methyl alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol, the Dogan news agency reported.

"I'm not that stupid," the suspect said, according to the report. "I've made raki in the past. It's the [distributors] who are responsible for the deaths."

History of bootlegging

People began reporting symptoms of methyl alcohol poisoning - including blindness and severe abdominal pain - in Istanbul last week, media reported. Hospitals have admitted a total of 89 people for alcohol poisoning since Wednesday.

In 2005, 22 people died in Turkey from drinking illicit raki, and officials investigated another round of illnesses in 2009.

At the time distributors blamed successive tax hikes on alcohol, which critics say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the former mayor of Istanbul, introduced as part of his bid by to impose conservative Islam-influenced restrictions on society. Turkey's government levies some of the world's highest taxes on alcohol and tobacco, which analysts say has encouraged increased smuggling and illegal production.

Earlier this year, dozens died in India as a result of illegally distilled alcohol. In 2012, the Czech Republic was forced to ban booze exports after a rash of illnesses and deaths linked to bootleg liquor spread to neighboring Slovakia and Poland.

mkg/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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