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Death toll in India’s toxic brew tragedy hits 107

By R.K. Misra

Associated Press

AHMADABAD, India — Opposition leaders accused police of abetting bootlegging in western India, saying they were partly responsible for the recent deaths from illegally brewed poisonous liquor. The death toll rose to 107 on Friday.

Doctors from across Gujarat state have been rushed to Ahmadabad city to assist in the treatment of another 150 people who have been hospitalized, said an officer at the Police Control Room. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to disclose his name to the media.

Schools and colleges were shut in Ahmadabad on Friday after the opposition called for their closure in protest.

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Most of the victims, who drank the tainted brew on Sunday, were poor slum-dwellers looking for cheap means of intoxication.

Ahmadabad is the biggest city in Gujarat, where the sale of all liquor is banned. While the rich rely on liquor smuggled from neighboring states, the poor sneak into clandestinely run shops selling home-brewed alcohol, often spiked with pesticides and chemicals to increase its potency.

On Thursday, hundreds of angry residents protested in the streets, attacking public buses with sticks and hurling stones at police. The burned effigies of the Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The state assembly has also been in an uproar over the past three days, with opposition members ripping microphones from their desks and hurling them at ruling party lawmakers.

"The police is hand in glove with the bootleggers and that’s how it (the illegal business) has proliferated, resulting in this tragedy," said state opposition leader Shakti Singh Goel of the Congress Party.

The party demanded the resignation of Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, whose ministry oversees the police.

Modi "has forfeited the right to rule Gujarat in the face of such a massive tragedy," said Siddharth Patel, another Congress leader.

"I appeal to the citizens of Ahmadabad for calm and promise to take deterrent action against the guilty," Modi said.

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In Surat, members of a women’s rights group raided a bootlegging shop Thursday, destroyed the liquor stocks and handed over the owner to police.

"If the police don’t take action we will move in," said Meena Patel, a member of the group, known as Sakhi Mandal.

Authorities have asked a retired judge to investigate the deaths and suspended six police officers for negligence of duty. Police have also arrested dozens of people but activists like Patel accuse officers and politicians of taking bribes to turn a blind eye to the bootlegging operations.

Top police officials and Modi’s government have not responded to the allegations.

Deaths from drinking bootlegged alcohol occur often in all parts of India. In 1980, 128 people died after drinking tainted liquor in Majur Gam in Gujarat.

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