Brussels at near-standstill as cost-of-living march draws 70,000

People protest over the rising cost of living, in Brussels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Around 70,000 Belgian workers marched through Brussels on Monday demanding government action to tackle sharply rising living costs, as one-day strikes at Brussels Airport and on local transport networks nationwide brought public travel to a near-halt.

Protesters carried flags and banners reading "More respect, higher wages" and "End excise duty", while some set off flares. Some demanded the government do more, others said employers needed to improve pay and working conditions.

Unions said about 80,000 were present. Police put the figure at 70,000.

Brussels Airport said it could not allow passenger flights to depart because the industrial action extended to security personnel, and most arrivals were also cancelled.

Local public transport operators were running skeleton services, though some train lines were operating, partly to allow protesters to converge on the capital.

Belgian inflation hit 9% in June, mirroring sharp rises elsewhere driven primiarly by the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on supply chains and energy and commodity prices.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Belgian workers were better protected than counterparts in most other European Union countries because wages were indexed to inflation.

He told public broadcaster RTBF the government had extended sales tax breaks on gas, electricity and fuel until the end of the year.

Further travel disruption is expected later this week, with pilots and cabin crew of Brussels Airlines planning a June 23-25 strike over working conditions and their Ryanair counterparts in Belgium set for three days of action from Friday.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Janet Lawrence and John Stonestreet)