Police have arrested a 51-year-old man accused of sabotaging railway tracks in North Moravia. The man was arrested in Prague whilst making a telephone call to a national newspaper, threatening to carry out more acts of sabotage unless he received 15 million crowns. He is accused of undoing screws on railway sleepers near his home town of Sumperk. Police say the man has a previous criminal record for burglary and theft. He told police he needed money and had been inspired by another blackmail attempt earlier in the summer, also involving railway tracks. That attempt, involving explosives, was also unsuccessful, although the blackmailer was never caught.
The Finance Ministry has unveiled its first draft of the 2004 state budget, which proposes a deficit of 118 billion crowns on revenues of 748.2 billion crowns. The deficit target, equal to 4.7 percent of estimated GDP next year, was previously fixed by the leaders of the three parties in the centre-left ruling coalition. The government will discuss the draft on September 3, when it meets for the first time after the summer holiday break. The cabinet is due to complete and submit its 2004 budget to parliament by the end of September. The draft faces a heated debate in the government after individual ministries requested more than 40 billion crowns of extra spending.
The central bank has voted to keep interest rates flat, in line with expectations and comments last month that the moderately growing Czech economy did not need more support from monetary policy. The seven-member board of the Czech National Bank had surprised the market with a quarter percentage point reduction on June 25 and another cut of the same amount on July 31, which brought the main repo rate to a new low of 2.0 percent. Central bank governor Zdenek Tuma said after the July cut that he saw no strong reason for further easing at the moment. Analysts have said the recent Czech rate cuts have done enough to help the economy, which grew by 2.2 percent year-on-year in the first quarter.
Czech athlete Roman Sebrle has taken the silver medal in the decathlon at the World Athletics Championships in Paris. Sebrle, who holds the points record in the decathlon, was beaten into second place by Tom Pappas of the United States. Three-times world champion Tomas Dvorak came fourth in what was his first decathlon of the year.
Customs officers in West Bohemia have seized millions of crowns of counterfeit goods in raids on three markets near the German border. The goods seized included pirated CDs, imitations of famous brands of watches and clothes, as well as a large haul of cigarettes smuggled from Ukraine.
A tourist suffered light head injuries on Thursday when a large piece of plaster fell off a ceiling at Prague's art deco Hotel Europa. The woman was not seriously hurt, although a fireman called to the scene was taken to hospital after apparently suffering a heart attack. Critics say the once-prestigious hotel, located on Prague's Wenceslas Square, is falling apart and needs millions of crowns of investment.
Friday will see unsettled weather across the Czech Republic, as a cold front moves in from the east. The weather will be a mixture of sunshine and clouds, with rain and storms in places. Temperatures will reach highs of 30 degrees Celsius, falling to lows of 16 degrees at night.
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