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German train drivers end week-long strike

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[BERLIN] German train drivers on Sunday ended a week-long walkout, the longest in the history of rail operator Deutsche Bahn, with a promise to give strike-weary passengers "a break" for a while.

The industrial action had largely crippled cargo and passenger rail traffic in Europe's biggest economy since Monday.

The drivers' union GDL has been locked in a bitter dispute with Deutsche Bahn management primarily focused on the employees it wants to represent, but also on wages and working hours.

"The country and railway customer now deserve a break - and Deutsche Bahn needs a pause to think about how it should react," the GDL union's combative leader, Claus Weselsky, told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

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Deutsche Bahn said that since the strike ended at 0700 GMT, it was preparing to restore services to normal throughout the course of the day with the goal of offering full passenger services nationwide by Monday morning.

Cargo services would only fully resume by mid-week, the operator said in a statement.

GDL had already staged seven previous strikes since July, which Deutsche Bahn said cost it 200 million euros (US$222 million).

Deutsche Bahn - which has a workforce of 300,000 and transports around 5.5 million passengers and 607,000 tonnes of cargo in Germany every day - had denounced the strike as "completely excessive and disproportionate".

Germany has faced a series of industrial disputes in recent months, notably repeated strikes by pilots of its flag carrier Lufthansa over early retirement provisions, and wage negotiations with stoppages at the postal and logistics giant Deutsche Post.