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At least 60 dead from alcohol poisoning in Tripoli, ministry says

By Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
March 13, 2013 -- Updated 0818 GMT (1618 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 700 cases of alcohol poisoning have been reported, Libyan News Agency reports
  • Alcohol consumption is banned in Libya, but alcoholic drinks can be found
  • Locally made alcohol is behind this case, the National Security Directorate says

(CNN) -- At least 60 people have died in the Libyan capital after drinking locally made alcohol, the Ministry of Health says, and the National Security Directorate of Tripoli said Tuesday it is launching an investigation.

According to the Libyan News Agency, there were 709 other cases of alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol sale and consumption is prohibited in Libya, a conservative Muslim nation, but smuggled alcoholic drinks can be found, in addition to homemade alcohol locally known as "bokha."

The National Security Directorate said this large-scale poisoning was caused by such locally made alcohol.

A medical source in Tripoli who has seen some of the patients told CNN their symptoms indicated methanol poisoning. Methanol overdose symptoms include breathing problems, blindness, comas, seizures and death.

Officials say the first case was reported in the capital on Thursday, and over the following days Tripoli Central Hospital received a large number of people showing signs of alcohol poisoning. Some cases had to be transferred to other hospitals.

Those affected ranged in age from 16 to 55, the head of the internal medicine department at the hospital, Dr. Massoud al-Azzabi, told the state news agency on Monday. Some lost their eyesight, and some of the others were put on dialysis machines or respirators, he said.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Tripoli National Security Directorate announced the formation of a committee of five officers to oversee the investigation into the alcohol poisoning, which some reports call the worst ever in Libya.

The directorate said police stations in the city have started to record the cases and the Criminal Investigations unit is investigating.

A security task force that includes a number of security and revolutionary forces has been formed and is ready to raid suspected bootlegger hideouts upon orders from the government, according to the state news agency.

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