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A man and a child walk through an empty hallway of Belgium's second busiest train station in Ghent this morning. The country has been effectively shut down by a general strike. Yves Logghe/AP

Welcome to Brussels, EU leaders! Everyone is on strike

The summit to sign off on the ‘fiscal compact’ deal has coincided with Belgium’s first general strike in almost 20 years.

BELGIUM’S BIGGEST trade unions have organised a nationwide general strike – the first in almost two decades – to coincide with today’s meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.

The strike has been organised in protest at the plans of the newly-formed government to cut €11 billion in public spending, and to raise the country’s retirement age.

Union leaders said the stoppages were “inevitable” given the difficulty in resolving tensions with the government of Elio di Rupo, who took over two months ago after 530 days of political deadlock.

The stoppage began at 9pm local time last night when rail workers began to stop their duties, and it is thought that the country’s entire rail network could be stopped today as a result of the strike.

AFP said no buses, trams or metro trains were running either, while high-speed Eurostar services and intercity trains were also out of action.

It added that strikers were also planning to mount blockades on several of Belgium’s roads – forcing the Belgian government to arrange access for the arriving EU leaders through a military airport.

CNN said its reporters, who are in town to cover the summit, had not noticed any major protests or traffic disruptions.

Airports were also shut, with Ryanair saying it had been forced to cancel 84 flights to and from the southern Charleroi airport as a result of the stoppages.

Financial pressures on Belgium have not been as pronounced as they have been on other eurozone members, though its credit rating was cut by Fitch last Friday.

This morning the Belgian government would be asked to pay 3.73 per cent interest to borrow for 10 years, a relatively low amount compared to other eurozone members.

Read: Fitch downgrades five eurozone countries – but retains Ireland’s rating

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