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    <img decoding=” title=”Sad” /> MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) — Counterfeit vodka laced with toxic household agents has turned Russia’s national tipple into a deadly cocktail and is killing Russians by the dozen.

    Hundreds have died from hepatitis and liver failure in the past few weeks after swigging the tainted liquor, alarming lawmakers and forcing the General-Prosecutor on Wednesday to order a clampdown on illegal alcohol producers.

    Provincial Russian towns from the Baltic Sea to Siberia have declared a state of emergency and thousands of other victims — mainly poor — are receiving medical treatment, although hospitals say they are running out of beds. Police have started criminal investigations to find the origins of the toxic vodka.

    “The country currently faces an emergency situation caused by poisoning from illegal alcohol,” the General-Prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

    “There has been a great increase in banned and fake alcohol products.”

    An enduring feature of Russian life, vodka has been the favorite tipple in Russia for centuries. A shot of the fiery, colorless drink is used to celebrate, to steady nerves, to close business deals or to drown grief.

    “Samogon” — home-brewed vodka — has been around for centuries too, bringing solace to the worker and despair to relatives.

    But the tainted vodka claiming lives now is something different — and far more deadly. Many commentators blame a new government law introduced in July for the current poisoning.

    The laws are meant to protect consumers from illegal products by forcing producers to comply to strict new registration and hygiene rules but it has also pushed extra costs onto producers who pass them to consumers.

    Attempts to curb alcohol consumption in the past have been unpopular. A 1986 anti-alcohol campaign by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev led to a massive boom in low-quality illegal production and Russians learned to drink perfumes and other household liquids made from alcohol.

    Aftershave, brake fluid
    Newly rich Russians may speed around Moscow’s roads in the latest Western luxury car but there are millions of people living in poverty across the sprawling country who have to scrape their roubles together for the next bottle of vodka.

    And they want it cheap.

    “From July 1 they (officials) introduced licenses for wholesale deliveries of liquids containing alcohol. In August poisoning from antiseptics began,” Pavel Shapin, head of the National Alcohol Association, told Reuters.

    “The problem is that people started drinking antiseptics.”

    Antiseptics are used for cleaning flesh wounds, and as medicine are not covered by the new law.

    Newspaper reports also say brake fluid, eau de cologne, window cleaning liquid, lighter fuel and aftershave have also been added to vodka.

    Television mixed pictures of seriously ill people tinged yellow with hepatitis and liver failure, with rural and industrial workers knocking back vodka.

    “It (vodka) is very important to Russians,” Moscow-based sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya said. “Village people always will and always have, even 100 and 200 years ago, made moonshine (illegal vodka) because they must have it.”

    But things are not all bad, Russian officials and government media pointed out this week.

    Alcohol drinking sessions killed only 17,000 people in Russia in the first nine months of this year, official figures showed, around 4,000 less than during the same period in 2005.

    “In the current year the situation has improved slightly,” the deputy speaker of the state Duma, Boris Gryzlov, told Russian news agency RIA on Wednesday. “But it’s still a terrible figure.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/europe/11 … index.html

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