Belgium shuts down to protest austerity measures (VIDEO)

Belgium has been paralyzed by a general strike as the country’s labor unions protest against government austerity measures, which raise taxes and cut benefits for hundreds of thousands of workers.

The first general strike in almost twenty years has wreaked havoc in transport services, with the entire rail network closed, and buses and trolleybuses not running.

Brussels airport has not been shut down, but many airlines cancelled flights ahead of the strike and some redirected planes to other airports.

Reporting from Brussels, RT`s Tesa Arcilla says the streets are largely empty due to the strike. She says that earlier, labor unions gathered in the center for a protest rally, with marchers holding anti-austerity banners. One of them read "Austerity pact No, Solidarity Pact Yes."

Protesters are furious at government plans to raise the retirement age and the other measures designed to save 11.3 billion euros.

"We are angry because they want to attack our pensions," a railway union member was quoted by Reuters. "We want to make some noise."

"Before we had a special pension system, a retirement system, that we could take retirement at 55, now our new minister for pensions decided that we have to work ten years longer until 65. Actually that's quite impossible," said another striker.

The strike comes as European leaders are to meet for the 17th EU summit in two years. The meeting aims to seek more growth and jobs in the region, and to deal with the EU debt problem. The leaders are expected to sign a permanent rescue fund for the eurozone and agree on a balanced budget rule in national legislation.