15 dead from alcohol poisoning in southern Pakistan

AFP , Tuesday 22 Mar 2016

At least 15 people including two women died in a southern Pakistani town after drinking tainted liquor, with dozens more sickened, police said on Tuesday.

The incident is the latest to highlight the proliferation of low-grade liquor in the Islamic country, which officially bars Muslims from drinking.

The poisonings occurred on Monday evening in the town of Tando Muhammad Khan, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Karachi.

"So far we have reports of 15 deaths including two women," Nasim Ara Panwar, the town's senior police officer told AFP. Most of the victims were minority Hindus, she added.

A second police official who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media confirmed the incident and toll.

"Thirty-seven people were brought to hospitals, of whom 15 died, 11 were discharged and 11 others are still being treated," he said.

Panwar added police had made four arrests in relation to the incident but were chasing a key suspect who remained at large.

"We have confiscated 65,000 litres of liquor only two days ago but their production is very high," she said.

Gayan Chand Israni, the minister in charge of excise and taxation, which regulates alcohol, said an inquiry was underway and several officials had been suspended for negligence.

Though legal breweries exist in Pakistan, the sale of alcohol and consumption is prohibited for Muslims and tightly regulated for minorities and foreigners.

While wealthy Pakistanis buy bootlegged foreign alcohol at heavily inflated prices, the poor often resort to home-brews that can contain methanol, commonly used in anti-freeze and fuel.

In October 2014 at least 29 drinkers were killed after consuming methanol-tainted liquor over the Eid public holidays.

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