There was good news for the Czech economy on Friday, when figures were released showing that 2004 saw the lowest foreign trade deficit since 1993. Both imports and exports increased last year after the Czech Republic joined the European Union, with exports rising particularly sharply. The industry and trade minister, Milan Urban, said in terms of euros per capita, the Czech Republic's foreign trade results exceeded those of countries like Spain and Greece, and were on the same level as the United Kingdom.
The controversy surrounding the question of how Prime Minister Stanislav Gross financed the purchase of his flat has taken a new turn: businessman Rostislav Rod said on Friday he lent money to Mr Gross's uncle, who in turn lent some of it to the prime minister. Mr Gross's uncle previously said he had borrowed the money from relatives living outside the Czech Republic. The prime minister has come under mounting pressure from the opposition and media to explain how he bought his luxury Prague flat, which cost more than he had officially earned.
The director of the Bambini di Praga girls choir, Bohumil Kulinsky, is to remain in custody for another three months, after a Prague court accepted the argument of a prosecutor that he might try to influence witnesses. Mr Kulinsky is charged with sexually abusing 25 members of the choir, with the oldest accusations dating back to 1984.
The head of the Prague-West District Court has been dismissed, after a child custody case she was in charge of dragged on for 13 years. Judge Marie Drahokoupilova failed to order a mother to grant her former husband access to their son, despite the father winning a ruling to that effect. The judge said she was not guilty of any wrongdoing, and was considering suing the Justice Ministry.
Bank charges are higher in the Czech Republic than in Germany and Austria, where salaries are up to five times higher, the daily Pravo reported on Friday. For instance, banks in the Czech Republic charge fees for withdrawing money from ATM machines, a service which is free in Germany and Austria. Furthermore, interest on current accounts is higher in those countries, while interest on overdrafts is lower.
The Marianske military barracks in the south Bohemian town of Ceske Budejovice has been declared a national monument by the Culture Ministry. The move looks likely to spell the end of plans to build a new shopping and office centre on the site. Officials in the town have welcomed the decision.
The Czech men's tennis number one, Jiri Novak, has reached the quarter-finals of the Millennium International Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina, after beating Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in two sets on Friday. It is Novak's first tournament of the season; the 29-year-old took January off to spend time with his family.
Temperatures should drop slightly over the next few days, falling to as low as minus 5 or 6 degrees Celsius during the day. There will be sunny spells in many parts of the country.
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