Istanbul - Twelve people in Istanbul have died over the past four days and dozens have been hospitalised after drinking bootleg alcohol, Turkish media reported Thursday, adding health officials feared the toll will rise.
The victims had all consumed raki, an aniseed-flavoured liquor, which health authorities believe had been infused with lethal quantities of methyl alcohol.
Fifty-nine people have been hospitalised, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said earlier.
"Nine patients are in critical condition and five others are in intensive care while 15 patients have been discharged after treatment," he said.
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He exhorted people to drink only legally-sanctioned drinks, in a country where the tax on alcohol has been rising steadily.
One of those poisoned in the incident, Serkan Okansoy, called on the government to lower the fiscal levy on raki to prevent future incidents of this kind.
"Please, make raki a bit cheaper," Okansoy urged in the Hurriyet Daily News. "Everyone has to buy it on the black market."
Bootleg raki can be bought for five Turkish liras (1.5 euros, $1.7) a bottle, while the legal, shop-bought version costs 38 lira.
Police have arrested 15 suspected of producing the booze.
In 2005, 22 people died in Turkey from drinking illicit raki.
Distributors at the time blamed successive tax hikes on alcohol, which critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan say are part of a bid by the former Istanbul mayor to impose conservative Islamic restrictions on society.