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Police accused as more die from bootleg liquor

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 yesterday.

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 a police official.

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

Most of the victims who drank the tainted brew last 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 potency.

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

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

"The police are hand in glove with the bootleggers and that's how it 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.

In Surat on Thursday, members of a women's rights group raided a bootlegging shop and destroyed the liquor. "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 have suspended six police officers for negligence of duty.


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