7 poisoned in Czech Republic by bootleg liquor

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At least four more people have died in the Czech Republic after drinking bootleg alcohol tainted with toxic methanol, bringing the death toll to seven in the worst such poisoning in three decades, officials said on Tuesday.

Police spokeswoman Miluse Zajicova said a 45-year-old man died in a hospital in the eastern town of Prerov, and a 21-year-old woman was found dead in nearby Osek nad Becvou.

Petra Pekarova, spokeswoman for Prague's General University Hospital, said Tuesday that a 38-year-old man had died there of methanol poisoning, while the public radio and television both said a 28-year-old woman from the eastern part of the country was found dead in her house.

Prime Minister Petr Necas called the situation "very serious" and said he has asked his ministers of agriculture, health and interior to inform him about the steps they have taken to prevent any further health damage of citizens.

Methanol, or wood alcohol, is mainly used for industrial purposes. It is sometimes misused to illegally produce cheap liquor.

Authorities announced Monday that three deaths in the country's east had been linked to the illicit liquor. About two dozen other people have been hospitalized, some in critical condition.

Authorities have launched a nationwide check of restaurants, bars, liquor stores and street markets in an effort to discover the origin of the bootleg booze.

Senior police officer Vaclav Kucera said police believe all the cases have been connected.

Over the weekend, police arrested a 36-year-old suspect but declined to provide details.