Scores dead from tainted alcohol in Indonesia

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At least 82 people have died so far this month in Indonesia after drinking bootleg alcohol, authorities said on Tuesday.

The latest tragedy, speculated to be caused by a single batch, highlights the unfortunate side effects of efforts to limit the legal alcohol trade.

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Scores dead

  • Police said 51 people died in West Java and 31 died in and around the capital Jakarta.
  • Scores more are in critical condition in hospital.
  • Police arrested seven people in West Java and four in Jakarta.
  • Bandung declared a state of emergency.

Blurred vision

“All the patients come with shortness of breath, diminished consciousness and many whose vision is blurred,” Amelia, a doctor at the state-run hospital in Cicalengka who uses one name, told Indonesian TV.

“This is a wake up call … for all of us,” said National Police spokesman Setyo Wasisto.

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Unusually high: Toxic alcohol often causes deaths in Indonesia, but the sheer scale of the latest spate of deaths has led to suspicions of a single large distributor.

Alcohol crackdown: In 2015 Indonesia banned tens of thousands of mini-marts and small stores from selling alcohol amid pressure from conservative Muslims. Indonesia is the most-populous Muslim nation, but its mostly-Sunni faithful practice a moderate form of Islam. High taxes have helped pushed a black market for alcohol for the country’s poorly-paid workers.

Toxic brew: Bootleg alcohol is usually sold by street vendors who mix it up with various additions. Lax distilling can produce alcohol laced with methanol, ingestion of which can be fatal.

Ongoing investigation: Two suspects are still on the run and police are trying to piece together what happened. Authorities have warned that the death toll could increase.

aw/jm (AP, AFP)

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