News of Radio Prague

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Finance Minister warns against increasing interest rates

The Czech Finance Minister, Jiri Rusnok, has warned that a further increase in interest rates would harm the Czech economy. Mr Rusnok told journalists at a press conference on Friday that a further increase will be unnecessary, and that he believes that any possible increase would, based on his experience, be counterproductive over the course of the next few months. The Czech National Bank left interests at their current level of 5.25% on Thursday, but economic analysts believe that the central bank's monetary policy will have to be tightened before the end of the year.

On a related note, Finance Minister Jiri Rusnok announced on Friday that the government aims to meet its 2001 budget forecast and end the year with a deficit of 49 billion Czech crowns, or some 1.3 billion US dollars. It will be tough, Mr Rusnok told journalists, but the government hopes to remain on target. The Finance Minister also said that the government hopes to cover the extra deficit of nine billion Czech crowns, or some 250 million US dollars, incurred in last year's budget. The Finance Ministry has also lowered its forecast for the budget deficit for 2002. The new deficit will total just over 52 billion Czech crowns, or roughly 1.4 billion US dollars.

Transport Minister dismisses calls for his resignation

Transport Minister Jaromir Schling has described calls for his resignation as irresponsible. Mr Schling has come under fire repeatedly in recent months by used car importers and driving school owners for what they described as ridiculous legislation. Driving school instructors have complained that the latest driving license exams are far too hard, and car importers say that measures to restrict the import of used cars will cause irreparable damage to their business. Representatives of both groups have called on Mr Schling and two high-ranking officials at the Transport Ministry to resign. Mr Schling told journalists on Friday that their actions have closed off the possibility for further talks to be held between these representatives and the government. The Czech Driving School Association and the Association of Independent Car Importers plan to block all main highways into Prague on Wednesday September 5th in protest over the Transport Ministry's policies.

Small town's residents take to the streets over ring-road

The residents of the small town of Dobra in Northern Moravia have blocked a local highway to protest against lack of progress in building a ring-road around their town. Residents blocked the main road between the towns of Frydek-Mistek and Cesky Tesin on Friday afternoon, saying that they would block the road for an hour over repeated delays in the project to build a ring-road on the R48 highway around their town. One of the main organisers of the protest, Petr Martinak, told the Czech News Agency that if a public tender to select a developer for the project is not called by September 15th, then the residents of Dobra will take to the streets again, and will block the highway for much longer next time. The Ministry of Transport, said Mr Martinak, is unable to put together a team of competent people to resolve this problem. The Transport Ministry says that bureaucratic obstacles are to blame, and that it cannot help the delays.

First joint Czech-Slovak army unit

September will see the signing of an agreement between the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the creation of a joint army unit that will specialise in peacekeeping operations. The unit will be the first joint military unit established since the split of Czechoslovakia at the end of 1992. The joint unit is expected to take part in the KFOR peace-keeping mission in Kosovo as of January next year. Slovak Defence Minister Jozef Stank said the initiative would help Slovakia to become a fully-fledged member of NATO. The unit, which would be stationed along Kosovo's border with Serbia, will be made up of 400 Czech and 100 Slovak soldiers.

Weather

And finally, a quick look at the weather forecast. Saturday in the Czech Republic should see cloudy to overcast skies, with rain showers in places. Daytime highs could reach 18 degrees Celsius. Night-time lows on Friday could drop to 9 degrees Celsius.