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Belgium strike to ground all flights

Saturday, December 13, 2014 - 07:16

[BRUSSELS] All flights to and from Belgium will be grounded for 24 hours from late Sunday as air traffic controllers join a nationwide strike against the new government's austerity policies, a union warned Friday.

Workers at Belgocontrol, the state-owned firm that manages Belgian air traffic, would "totally support the nationwide strike," CSC union official Kurt Callaerts said.

"Nobody will work," he added, as the union said the government's plan to save 11 billion euros (US$13.7 billion) over five years "has consequences for everyone." No planes are due to land at or take off from airports in Brussels, Charleroi, Liege, Antwerp and Ostend for 24 hours from 2100 GMT Sunday, according to the official quoted by the Belga news agency.

The strike will not affect planes flying over Belgium at more than 7,500 metres (24,600 feet) as they are monitored by Eurocontrol and will not have to change their flight plans, a spokesman for the Europe-wide air traffic management organisation told AFP.

Airlines operating in Belgium had anticipated disruptions, but not on this scale, after 40 per cent of flights were cancelled last Monday.

Also likely to be paralysed Monday are bus, tram and train services, including those linking Brussels to the British capital London and to cities in France, the Netherlands and Germany.

A general economic slowdown is likely as picket lines organised by the main unions form outside state-run firms, schools, government offices and industrial zones.

The strike is the culmination of a weekly series of disturbances that 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.

AFP