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Belgium hit by strike chaos

Chaos hit Belgium on Monday as workers walked out to protest the new government’s austerity measures with the city of Liege effectively closed down.

In four of Belgium’s ten provinces, public transport was halted, with schools and major shopping districts closed or running a highly reduced service.

At the height of rush-hour, only half of the country’s scheduled trains were in service, the national rail operator Infrabel said.

High-speed Thalys train services to Germany were halted, though Belgium’s connections to Paris and London were unaffected.

The French-speaking city of Liege was cut off from the rest of the country, with rail traffic and commuter buses cancelled completely.

Many Liege shopping districts were also hit, with big retailers closed and access points blocked by strikers.

“I’ve rarely seen anything like this. We’ve shown we can close down economic activity,” said Jean-Francois Ramquet, a union organiser in Liege.

Private businesses were also affected with 8,000 strikers in the Flemish-speaking Ghent region blocking access to about 500 companies, according to the FGTB union.

The strikes are 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.