Bootleg alcohol kills dozens in weeks

AFP Indonesia

Indonesian Deputy National Police Chief Muhammad Syafruddin, centre, checks huge quantities of suspect confiscated alcohol during a press conference in Jakarta.

Deputy Chief of National Police Muhammad Syafruddin said in a Jakarta press conference that 51 people died in West Java province since Friday when the affected were taken to hospitals, Efe news reported.

More than 50 Indonesians have died and many have been become sick and hospitalised since last week after consuming homemade alcohol tainted with various ingredients including mosquito repellent, authorities said on Tuesday.

"This is a insane phenomenon", he said.

Deaths have occurred in several areas of the populous country, where people have consumed dodgy home brew or fake professionally labelled bottles purporting to be whiskey or wine.

"We have to stop this, " he said, pledging to resort to "scorched earth" measures to tackle the scourge.

It's unclear how effective the crackdown will be.

Muslim-majority Indonesia has a thriving bootleg business, fuelled by high taxes and limited sales of legal alcohol.

The police finds out the degree of involvement of each of the offenders to the incident. Potentially lethal methanol can be a byproduct of bootleg distilling and the tainted alcohol is also sometimes mixed with soft drinks.

Deaths from toxic alcohol are common in Indonesia and foreigners are occasionally among the victims.

But the latest cluster of fatalities is extreme, leading to speculation that a single large distributor was responsible.

It is noted that police arrested nine people suspected of manufacturing and selling surrogate alcohol. There were six deaths from drinking compromised liquor in the easternmost region of Papua in late March.

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