Tainted raki claims 28 lives in Turkey

November 6, 2015, 4:55am

By News24, photo by News24

Istanbul -Twenty-eight people have died after drinking bootleg versions of Turkey's national drink, in what appears to be the country's worst ever bout of alcohol poisoning, local media said on Thursday.

The death toll has been steadily climbing over the past two weeks, with scores of people being admitted to hospital in Istanbul complaining of vomiting, dizziness, headache and loss of eyesight.

The victims had all consumed raki, a strong aniseed-flavoured liquor which health authorities believe had been infused with lethal quantities of methanol.

Fourteen people were arrested on Saturday charged with involuntary homicide for producing or supplying the spiked booze and police have launched a nationwide crackdown, seizing thousands of bottles.

Fake raki can be bought for €1.5 a bottle, while the legal, shop-bought version costs at least €6.

Turkey's Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu last week told people not to buy cheap alcoholic drinks, but instead look for properly labelled and taxed bottles.

Many have blamed the emergence of the moonshine on hefty taxes levied on alcohol by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government since it came to power in 2002.

In 2013, parliament passed legislation curbing alcohol sales and advertising, as well as increasing taxes on beer, wine and spirits - the toughest such measures in the republic's 90-year history.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim who does not drink or smoke, defended the law at the time and urged people to drink ayran, a non-alcoholic beverage made from yoghurt, instead of raki.

The latest deaths occurred on Wednesday, and 15 people remain in hospital, some in critical condition, the Dogan news agency reported.

A total of 22 people had died in 2005 in a similar spate of cases.