Europe

Belgium hit by general strike as EU leaders meet

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Media captionJan Van Der Cruysst, a spokesman at Brussels Airport, says about 10% of flights will be disrupted

Belgium is holding its first general strike in more than six years in protest over austerity measures, as EU leaders meet for a summit in Brussels.

The main train station in Brussels was closed while flights at Belgium's low cost airport Charleroi were cancelled.

At Brussels Airport, which remains open, a spokesman estimated about 10% of flights would be affected.

EU leaders have gathered in Brussels to continue talks on the eurozone crisis - their first summit this year.

They are expected to sign a treaty that will bind eurozone states to tougher budget rules known as the "fiscal compact".

Staff at the summit were asked to arrive for the 14:00 (13:00 GMT) meeting at 05:30 to avoid the disruption.

The strike has brought most of the transport system in Brussels to a standstill.

Meanwhile, high-speed international trains, such as the Eurostar from London and Thalys from Paris, stopped running late on Sunday.

The strike also affected the private sector, with production at the Audi and Volvo car plants disrupted, while employees walked off the job at the Coca-Cola factory near Antwerp.

Container terminals at the port of Antwerp were also shut, according to Belgian media.

Unions are protesting government plans aimed at saving 11.3bn euros ($14.8bn), including a proposal to raise the effective retirement age.

"We are angry because they want to attack our pensions," Philippe Dubois, a railway union member outside Brussels' Midi station, told Reuters news agency. "We want to make some noise."

However, many in Belgium appear to have accepted the need for austerity measures, with one opinion poll suggesting only 21% are in support the strike, according to the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws last week.