Authorities in Pakistan have suspended six senior excise officials and six policemen after 29 drinkers died from consuming methanol-tainted liquor over the Eid public holidays.

A further 24 people in Karachi are still being treated in hospital as of Thursday. There are fears that the fatality figure - already the highest for such incidents in seven years - could still rise.

"We have begun an inquiry to find out who sold the spirit illegally and we would take further action against those dealers," Gayan Chand, the provincial minister for excise, told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

He confirmed six officials from his department had been suspended, while a police spokesman said six members of the force in Karachi had been suspended for negligence - because the incidents occurred in areas they are supposed to monitor.

The police spokesman said they had a prime suspect and had filed murder charges against him, but he was still at large.

The death toll has jumped since the first fatalities were reported on Tuesday, with residents of the low-income Landhi and Korangi neighbourhoods of the southern city mainly affected.

Homemade liquor

The sale of methanol has been temporarily banned as it is frequently used in the creation of "katchi sharab" (homemade liquor), while officials and police officers have been suspended, pending an investigation into how the illegal alcohol came to be available in areas under their jurisdiction.

The incidents highlight the proliferation of low-grade liquor in the Islamic country, which officially bars Muslims from drinking.

Though legal breweries exist in Pakistan, the sale of alcohol and its consumption is prohibited for Muslims and tightly regulated for minorities and foreigners.

While higher income Pakistanis buy bootlegged higher grade alcohol at heavily inflated prices, the poor often resort to home-brews that can contain methanol, commonly used in anti-freeze and fuel.

Consumption of methanol can lead to blindness, liver damage and death. In 2007, 40 people were killed in Karachi after drinking contaminated liquor.

Source: Agencies