Updated: 02/22/2013 00:46 | By Agence France-Presse

Some 30,000 to 40,000 Belgians march against austerity

Some 30,000 to 40,000 people gathered in Brussels' city centre Thursday in a protest against austerity called by the country's three major trade unions.


Among the protesters -- estimated by police at 30,000 and by organisers at 40,000 -- were workers facing lay-offs from a Ford auto plant in Genk and an ArcelorMittal facility in Liege.

Trade unions had expected a turnout of 10,000 for the protest march.

"Pensioners, the unemployed and the sick don't even have the minimum needed to be able to adjust their revenues," said CSC trade union leader Claude Rolin.

The trade unions were protesting against the government's decision to freeze wages as well social welfare payments and the minimum wage.

Although unions did not call a general strike, public transport was snarled both in the Flemish-speaking north and French-speaking south.

Buses were badly hit in Brussels but trams and the underground rail system were running at 75 to 80 percent during the morning rush-hour.

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