At least 39 people, most of them Christians celebrating Christmas, died and dozens fell ill after drinking toxic alcohol in Pakistan, officials said yesterday.
Police in eastern Punjab province took all alcohol sellers in the district of Toba Tek Singh into custody for questioning, district police official Mohamed Shahbaz said.
The drink was consumed during festive celebrations in a Christian community, Shabaz said, however five Muslims were also among the dead.
Many of the victims had been drinking and dancing throughout Sunday and into Monday morning, when some of them fell ill and were taken to hospital, he added.
More 150 people were taken to clinics, dozens of them unconscious.
Funerals have been held for 25 victims, Shabaz said.
The officer said that the individual who allegedly arranged for the alcohol at the Christmas festivities was among the dead, complicating police efforts to trace where the toxic beverage came from.
The sale of alcohol is banned in most of Pakistan.
Christians, however, are allowed permits to buy liquor for personal use.
Usaman Akram Gondal, who is with the Toba Tek Singh police, said deaths from toxic alcoholic drinks regularly occur in rural areas where people often consume poor quality liquor.
Aisf Saleemi, a doctor at the District Headquarters Hospital in Toba Tek Singh, said his clinic had received 105 patients, of whom 23 died.
Many of the patients in serious condition were taken to the larger and better-resourced Allied Hospital Faisalabad, located some 90 kilometres from Toba Tek Singh.
Sixteen people had died at the Faisalabad hospital and 24 others were either in the intensive care unit or the general ward, the hospital’s Mustafa Shahzad Mughal said.
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