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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 17:03 GMT
Siberia ravaged by bootleg vodka
By Steven Eke
BBC News

Russian homeless people drinking
Russia's thirst for vodka attracts unscrupulous suppliers
Fourteen towns in the Irkutsk region of Siberia have declared a state of emergency, amid a dramatic upsurge in mass poisonings caused by fake vodka.

Almost 900 people in the region are in hospital with liver failure, apparently after drinking industrial solvent.

Officials say there has been an alarming pattern of localised mass poisonings in recent weeks.

Last week, police and local authorities were given three days to ensure no poisons were being sold as vodka.

But this weekend dozens more poisonings were registered.

In several of the worst-affected regions, Russian officials have seized large quantities of hazardous liquids that authorities suspected were to be sold as alcoholic drinks.

They say the most common substances are de-icers, anti-rust treatments and window-cleaning solutions.

Poisoning hotspots

In one of the largest seizures, 600 tons of solvent was seized in the southern Russian city of Voronezh.

It is an indication of the scale of Russia's drink problem that during an average month 3,500 people die after drinking such liquids.

But what has caused most concern among officials is the dramatic upsurge in concentrated poisonings in small towns across the country.

In one of the worst cases, almost 1,000 people were poisoned in just two small towns in the Belgorod region in central Russia.

Critics say the government's decision earlier this year to introduce a new and expensive system of state excise stamps led to the market being flooded with potentially lethal vodka substitutes.

Genuine, certified vodka is now beyond the means of many of Russia's legions of poor.

And Russian doctors point out that most of those suffering liver failure in the spate of poisonings are from disadvantaged sections of society.

President Vladimir Putin has ruled out restrictions on the accessibility of alcohol, but radical solutions are being discussed.

They include the possible re-introduction of a state monopoly on the production of alcohol, or even providing a cheap, but safe, so-called "people's vodka" to avoid mass poisonings.


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