Indonesia steamrolls bootleg booze as death toll nears 100

JAKARTA, INDONESIA - Thousands of booze bottles were destroyed by Indonesian police on Friday (April 13) in a dramatic show as they crack down on bootleg alcohol blamed for killing close to 100 people in recent weeks.

Authorities in Tangerang, on the outskirts of the capital Jakarta, drove a yellow steamroller over a carpet of some 6,000 bottles, while others raided vendors in a bid to stop the worst string of homebrew deaths in years.

The world's most populous Muslim majority country banned the sale of alcohol in most convenience stores and small shops outside holiday hotspot Bali in 2015, although it is still widely available in supermarkets, bars and hotels.

High taxes make alcohol expensive, however, so low-paid workers often turn to cheap and sometimes deadly homemade booze instead.

As of Friday, authorities said at least 97 people have died nationwide since late March from drinking illegal spirits.

Some 160 others are in hospital with many still in critical condition.

At least 17 people have been arrested or named as suspects for selling and distributing bootleg alcohol, police said.

"One of the suspects himself died in hospital because he also consumed bootleg alcohol," local police spokesman Trunoyudo Wisnu Andiko told AFP.

Lab tests have turned up toxic levels of methanol - a form of alcohol used in antifreeze and solvents - in victims' systems.

Some of the suspects confessed to mixing pure alcohol with Coca-Cola, energy drinks, cough syrup and even mosquito repellent.

The string of deaths prompted Bandung, a major city east of Jakarta, and its surrounding area to declare a state of emergency on Tuesday.

Bootleg booze is usually sold under the table by street vendors, who sometimes make the toxic concoction themselves.

But police said they believe there are big distributors behind the sale of toxic alcohol implicated in the recent deaths.

Those found guilty of supplying beverages they knew to be dangerous could face a maximum life sentence, national police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said.

In 2016, 36 people died in Central Java after drinking locally bought homebrew.