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Deaths force Czech liquor export ban

The Czech government has imposed a ban on hard liquor exports following the deaths of 23 people. The victims are believed to have died from methyl alcohol poisoning after drinking bootlegged liquor.

The Czech Republic buckled under EU pressure on Thursday, banning the export of all spirits with an alcohol content above 20 percent.

Announcing the measure Prime Minister Petr Necas told reporters the European Commission had threatened to impose a ban on alcohol made or bottled in the Czech Republic unless the government took action.

Rather than wait for an EU ban "the government came to the conclusion that it will be more favorable for the Czech Republic to have the imposition and later the lifting of the ban in its own hands," Necas told a news conference after an emergency cabinet meeting.

"The [EU] ban would have been in effect for two months," he added.

The ban comes after the Czech Republic agreed on Friday to ban all domestic hard liquor sales in shops and pubs. It followed a wave of poisonings attributed to methanol-tainted bootlegged alcohol which killed 23 people and sickened scores more.

Police have charged 30 people in connection with the tainted alcohol, but have not yet found the source of the deadly spirits. Nevertheless authorities had resisted pressure to impose the export ban, arguing that that major producers had not been affected.

In a bid to reopen the domestic market from the middle of next week, the government has introduced new tax stamps on spirits and "birth certificate" labels which verify the origin of drinks.

The Czech Republic has the world's second highest adult alcohol intake after Moldova. The domestic ban is costing the state around 5.2 million euros ($6.8 million) in sales tax revenue a week.

ccp/av (AFP, Reuters)