Turkey ramps up crackdown on bootleg alcohol ahead of New Year celebrations

Amid soaring liquor prices and a currency slump, bootleg alcohol has claimed the lives of at least 75 people in two weeks in Turkey while security forces have ramped up security controls nationwide ahead of the New Year celebrations.

Turkish Interior Ministry announced on Monday that a nationwide operation code-named “Alcohol,” one of the biggest so far, was launched amid a rising number of deaths from bootleg alcohol across the country, Xinhua news agency reported.

Police and gendarmerie forces searched 23,103 locations in a crackdown on bootleg drink sellers, the Ministry said, adding 20,863 personnel took part in operations “to curb the access to smuggled or bootleg drinks to protect public health.”

Over 20,000 litres of counterfeit alcohol was seized, the police announced on Tuesday.

Four people died and two others were in critical condition after consuming bootleg alcohol on Sunday in the southern Mediterranean province of Mersin, while another person died in Ordu province in northern Turkey, bringing the overall death toll to 75 in 21 provinces, local news outlets said, quoting police statements.

In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, nearly 30 have died from bootleg alcohol.

Over 100 suspects have been detained in the last 10 days and tens of thousands litres of counterfeit alcohol was seized ahead of the New Year celebrations usually involving more alcohol consumption, security forces said.

Deaths from illicit alcohol poisoning are rather common in Turkey where people try to get cheaper alcohol as prices have soared in recent years amid an avalanche of taxes.

Bootleg alcohol is made from low-cost methyl alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol. The consumption of illegally distilled liquor can cause permanent blindness, metabolic disturbances and death.

However, more people have died this year in a short period of time as the Turkish lira has lost 37 per cent of its value since the start of the year which also had an impact on alcoholic beverage prices.

“The government should decrease taxes so that people don’t go looking for cheap products,” said Ozgur Aybas, Head of Turkey’s Liquor Stores platform, adding taxes translate into more than 70 per cent of the price of alcohol.

However, there have been many attempts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to restrict tobacco and alcohol sales in recent years to “discourage the youth from bad habits.”

Erdogan has frequently voiced opposition to alcohol sales and consumption. In Turkey, shops are now forbidden to sell alcohol after 10 p.m. local time and it has become more difficult for stores and restaurants to obtain an alcohol license.

According to surveys, alcohol consumption remains modest in Turkey compared with European countries. Only about 20 per cent of adults drink regularly in the Muslim nation as Islam bans alcohol.

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