04:42 GMT +322 November 2017
    A man watches as protesters begin to march during a demonstration against proposed working regulations in Brussels on Tuesday, May 31, 2016.

    Belgium Stopped to a Standstill as Anti-Austerity Protest Rocks Country

    © AP Photo/ Virginia Mayo
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    Large parts of Belgium came to a standstill on Tuesday as a series of transport and anti-austerity strikes caused serious disruptions in the country, while also highlighting the political and ethnic divides within Belgium.

    Most transport services in Belgium's French-speaking regions were halted as train drivers went on strike for the sixth consecutive day, protesting against a proposed reduction in overtime pay.

    The effects were also felt in Brussels, which experienced severe delays to public transport, while some postal workers and rubbish collectors also took industrial action.

    Along with transport strikes, thousands of other workers, including teachers and firefighters took to the streets of Brussels to protest against public service cuts, implemented as part of government austerity measures.

    Trade unions in Belgium have been protesting against government attempts to change Belgium's labor laws, with fears the changes could lead to weakened job security and even the introduction of zero-hour contracts.

    Tuesday's strikes are not the last planned for Charles Michel's government, with the 1.5 million-member FGTB union calling another general strike on June 24, to combat the Belgian's government's policies of "austerity and labor-market flexibility."

    The standstill delivered a fresh blow to Michel, whose government is still under immense pressure following security lapses that led to the Brussels airport terror attacks in March.

    Belgian Divides Shown Bare

    While almost all trains in Belgium's French-speaking regions were halted, an estimated 50-65 percent of services were still running in the Flemish-speaking parts of Flanders, leading many to highlight the divide between the wealthy north and poorer French-speaking south of the country.

    Many Francophones are unhappy with the policies of the center-right/liberal government, which contains a number of Flemish nationalists, with a difference in economic ideology between the predominantly socialist south and Flemish north.

    Flemish Christian Democrat MP Hendrik Bogaert told Le Soir that the strikes had "without a doubt put communitarian peace in danger," amid criticism of both unions and the government.

    The chaos in Belgium has also been seized upon by Euroskeptics as a weapon to protest against the EU, highlighting the symbolic nature of the anti-austerity protests and division in a country that houses the bloc's main institutions.


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    workers, anti-austerity protests, labor reform, unions, strike, protest, European Union, Charles Michel, Flanders, Europe, Belgium
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