Postcard from... Brussels


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The Independent Online

Brussels traffic is bad at the best of times: it is regularly rated as having some of the worst congestion in the world, with one survey last year estimating that motorists spend an average of 85.4 hours a year in traffic jams. And that’s without the roadblocks and angry protesters.

Yesterday, commuters were urged to leave their cars at home, and the only sensible course of action was to stay at home entirely as a strike paralysed the public transport networks and snarled up the roads. The strike didn’t just hit Belgians: all Eurostar trains were cancelled, as were nearly half the flights to and from the main airport.

The strike was part of a series of public protests against the new government’s plans to implement austerity measures including raising the retirement age and cutting the social welfare budget.

The civil action began with a massive street protest in early November, when people were shocked  by scenes of burning cars and volleys of tear gas on the streets of a city best known for hosting EU institutions.

The government, however, is not backing down. Belgian politics is a notoriously tricky business, with parties from the bickering French and Flemish-speaking parts of the country having to negotiate complicated coalition agreements.