Anti-ausiterity strike disrupts Belgium transportation



Public sector employees have brought transportation to a halt in Belgium as looming strikes on planes and trains are threatening to bring more chaos to neighboring France.

Thousands of public sector workers are taking part in a 24-hour national strike across Belgium. The national strike disrupted train and bus services as well as schools, prisons and mail delivery on Tuesday.

According to Belgium’s state railway, domestic services in the country’s French-speaking south ground to a halt on Tuesday.

Trains are still running between London and Brussels, but some services between Brussels and Paris have been cancelled. Forty percent of the trains in the Dutch-speaking north, however, are still providing service.

A demonstration, organized by labor unions, will also be held in the capital Brussels later in the day.

The unions are striking to protest austerity measures approved by the Belgian government, including budget cuts, changes to working hours and an increase in the retirement age.

In neighboring France, unions are also planning to hold strikes and rallies to pressure the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande to withdraw a set of controversial labor reforms.

Railway workers were set to disrupt transport throughout France, in a strike that is expected to affect around half of national and regional train services.

The railway employees strike will be followed by a strike on the Paris Metro network from Thursday. Air France pilots have also voted in principle for a lengthy strike at some point in June.

Protesters block a road to protest against the government’s planned labor law reforms in Paris. ©AFP

Officials are worried the strikes and rallies, less than two weeks before Euro 2016 kicks off, are putting off visitors to the capital Paris.

“The scenes of guerilla-type action in the middle of Paris, beamed around the world, reinforce the feeling of fear and misunderstanding,” said Paris tourist board.

Protesters and workers’ unions, who are demanding the withdrawal of the legislation, say the government wants to make it easier and less costly for employers to lay off workers.

Paris, however, says the proposed labor reforms focus on maximum working hours, holidays and breaks, and are aimed at curbing unemployment rate

Hollande insisted that the reform will not be scrapped, because “the text assures the best performance for businesses and offers new rights to employees.”

France has seen a series of extensive demonstrations and walkouts over the past months in protest at the labor reforms announced by the country’s government.

A state of emergency has also been in place since last November when terror attacks claimed more than a hundred lives in the capital Paris.

The French parliament extended the measure on May 19 for two more months to cover the Euro 2016 and ensure the safety of more than two million people who are to visit the country during the games.

Millions more are expected to arrive in France for the high-profile Tour de France cycling race, which is set for July 2-24.

The government has repeatedly denied that labor protests and terror threats may cause it to cancel the games.

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