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Belgian strike disrupts international flights, trains

Published on 08/12/2014

A strike against austerity measures by Belgium's new government on Monday paralysed public transport and caused havoc with international flights and train services in the capital.

All underground trains, buses and trams were halted in Brussels while high-speed train links to cities in France, the Netherlands and Germany were also suspended, officials said.

The Eurostar train link from Brussels to London was also scrapped, although service was available between the British capital and the northern French city of Lille, near the border with Belgium.

Nearly 300 departing and arriving flights, or 48 percent of the total, were cancelled at Brussels international airport mainly because of a strike affecting baggage handlers, a spokesman at the airport said.

No trains moved Monday in Brussels or in the neighbouring provinces of Flemish Brabant and French-speaking Brabant Wallon, according to the Belgian rail operator SNCB.

No buses were available in Brabant Wallon while few were circulating in Flemish Brabant.

The strike disrupted economic activity as pickets blocked workers from entering industrial zones while schools and public services were also disrupted.

“In Brussels, we have not seen such mobilisation in 20 years. Companies struck for the first time,” said Nic Gortz, an official with the leading Belgian union CSC.

“Sectors which are difficult to rally responded to the call, like retirement homes, hotels and banks,” he added.

The Brussels Chamber of Commerce estimated that the day-long strike in the capital and surrounding areas cost the economy 200 million euros ($245 million).

The strike is the latest in a weekly series of disturbances that will culminate in a nationwide general strike on December 15.

The movement began last month with a 100,000-person march in Brussels that ended in clashes leaving 112 police officers injured.

Belgian unions oppose a decision by Prime Minister Charles Michel’s right-of-centre coalition government to scrap plans for a usually automatic cost-of-living raise next year.

They also reject public sector cutbacks and plans to raise the retirement age.