Belgium cancels all flights as workers stage national strike

Brussels airport says they plan to handle 591 flights. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2019
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Belgium cancels all flights as workers stage national strike

  • The airspace will be closed for 24 hours, starting at 21:00 GMT, due to possible lack of staff
  • Officials expect the temporary closure will affect almost 60,000 passengers

BRUSSELS: Belgian airports canceled almost all flights on Wednesday due to a national strike over pay and working conditions that halted activity at ports, hit public transport and led to blockades outside factories.

Belgian air traffic control body Skeyes shut Belgian airspace for 24 hours from 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Tuesday because it could not guarantee enough staff would turn up.

Brussels Airport, the country’s busiest hub, said it had planned to handle 591 passenger and cargo departures and arrivals and that the strike would hit some 60,000 travelers.

Just one passenger flight, to Moscow, would depart late on Wednesday, with a few late arrivals and some cargo flights.

National rail operator SNCB said about half of its train services were running. High-speed Thalys, running to Amsterdam and Paris, said it should be running normal services, though catering might not be available on all trains. Some Eurostar trains to London were canceled due to maintenance.

Dock workers were not loading or unloading ships in the port of Antwerp. Blockades stopped work at factories across the country.

Brussels’ metro, tram and bus operator ran just a handful of lines. The situation was the same in the rest of the country.

Unions are calling for wage increases, an improved work-life balance and better pensions in talks with employers. Some see the strike as political action against the center-right federal government ahead of a parliamentary election.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said talks needed to resume by Thursday and added that companies had created 219,000 jobs in the past four years thanks to the government’s policies.

Belgium’s Central Council of the Economy, composed of worker, employer and consumer representatives, has advised that the maximum pay hike for 2019 and 2020 should be 0.8 percent. Michel’s office said that, including wage indexation, this meant an effective pay increase of up to 4.6 percent.


India suspends Kashmir border trade with Pakistan

Updated 19 April 2019
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India suspends Kashmir border trade with Pakistan

  • Kashmir has been on edge since a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries
  • India said it had reports that trade on the border was being “misused by Pakistan-based elements for funnelling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency”

NEW DELHI: India has suspended trade across its disputed Kashmir border with Pakistan, alleging that weapons and drugs are being smuggled across the route, as tensions simmer between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Kashmir has been on edge since a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries and brought the two countries to the brink of war with cross-border air strikes.
On Thursday, India’s government, which is in the middle of a tough national election, said it had reports that trade on the border was being “misused by Pakistan-based elements for funnelling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency.”
It also said many of those trading across the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir into zones under Indian and Pakistani control, had links to militant organizations.
The home ministry said trade would be suspended until a stricter inspection mechanism is in place.
The cross-border trade is based on a barter system, with traders exchanging goods including chillies, cumin, mango and dried fruit.
It began in 2008 as a way to improve strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, who have fought two of their three wars over the disputed region.
The Indian Express newspaper said Friday that 35 trucks carrying fruit traveling from the Indian side of the border had been stopped after the government order.
Trade on the border has been suspended before, including in 2015, when India accused a Pakistani driver of drug trafficking.
The latest move comes after India withdrew “Most Favoured Nation Status” — covering trade links — from Pakistan after the February attack, which was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group.
Islamabad has denied any involvement in the attack.
India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made national security a key plank of his re-election campaign, pointing to the recent flare-up of violence as he battles the center-left opposition Congress party.
He is seeking a second term from the country’s 900 million voters in the mammoth election which kicked off on April 11 and runs till May 19. The results will be out on May 23.