Trains shut down as transport workers in Belgium ahead of one-day national strike

Trains rumbled to a halt late Thursday ahead of a one-day national strike to protest changes to social security. Friday's strike was expected to affect transport, prisons, factories and schools, but not health services.

Belgium's largest socialist union erected picket lines outside a major postal sorting station in Berchem, a suburb of the port city of Antwerp, late Thursday, while trains across the country came to a halt, stranding some passengers, AP reports.

The overnight shift at the Opel car plant in Antwerp was canceled and federal police were taking over security and guard duty at jails where guards were joining the strike.

Commuters and travelers across Belgium faced a tough time getting to their destinations Friday, with buses, subways, trams and trains _ including the high-speed Eurostar and Thalys rail links to London, Paris and Amsterdam _ shut down.

At Brussels international airport, most flights were expected to be canceled or delayed, with baggage handlers joining the picket line, officials said. All flights Friday at Charleroi airport were canceled, reports said.

The country's biggest port of Antwerp also was set to shut down for the strike, as were several schools in Brussels. Government officials urged people to work from home if they could to avoid gridlock on the highways.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was to continue talks with unions and the employers' federation to push them to accept changes to the retirement system that would make it tougher for workers to retire early with full benefits. Verhofstadt is asking unions and businesses to accept raising the retirement age from 58 to 60 as a way to cut pension costs.

The government said it needs to keep people in their jobs longer to meet the challenges of an aging society with rising pension costs and potentially lower income. Verhofstadt is trying to get a deal this weekend. If a deal remains elusive, other unions said they could join in a larger national strike later in the month.

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