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Tainted Liquor Kills More Than 20 People in Indonesia

At least 23 people have died on the Indonesian resort islands of Bali and Lombok after consuming locally produced palm wine made with methanol, a fuel used for lanterns.

The first victims began arriving at Sanglah General Hospital in the Balinese city of Denpasar more than a week ago. The poisoning is reported to have occurred in four districts, including popular tourist areas.

Backyard distilleries are common in Indonesia where taxes of 300 percent drive up the price of imported wines and spirits. Producers often mix rice wine or arrak as it is commonly known, with methanol to increase the alcohol content. Methanol is used as fuel for lanterns in rural areas.

Most of the victims were residents of Bali and Lombok, but the dead include at least four Europeans and an American. The islands are destinations for international tourists.

Dr. Ida Bagus Putu Alit, the head of the Forensics Unit at Sanglah Hospital, says the victims all had symptoms of severe alcohol poisoning.

"Based on the clinical symptoms all of them were attacked by acute intoxication by methanol. The patient will coma, unconscious, after that renal failure and also [they go] blind," said Dr. Alit.

Nineteen people are still receiving treatment in Sanglah Hospital. Most are expected to recover, but Dr. Alit says some could be left permanently blind.

Police in Denpasar say they are questioning several producers of the wine and investigating the possibility that it was contaminated after it was sold to distributors.