6 dead after drinking bootleg spirits in Turkey, says minister

ISTANBUL - At least six people have died in Turkey and dozens have been hospitalised over the last three days after being poisoned by bootleg alcohol, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said on Thursday.

Turkey's Islamist-rooted government levies some of the world's highest taxes on alcohol and tobacco, which analysts say has encouraged increased smuggling and illegal production.

CNN Turk and other news channels reported the death toll had reached nine, citing local officials. Some 40 people were treated in hospital, with at least five in intensive care. "Citizens must take care to look for alcohol that meets standards with tax labels, rather than inexpensive products,"Muezzinoglu said in comments broadcast live by CNN Turk.

Istanbul police have detained 15 people in connection with production and sale of the illegaly produced raki, the popular aniseed-flavoured national spirit, according to CNN Turk.

People began reporting symptoms of methyl alcohol poisoning, including blindness and severe abdominal pain, three days ago in Istanbul, it reported.