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Union: Ford to close Belgian plant in 2014

BRUSSELS -- A union leader said Wednesday Ford Motor Co. has decided to close one of its main factories in eastern Belgium by the end of 2014 in a move that will result in 4,500 direct job losses and 5,000 more among subcontractors.

Exactly half a century after construction on the Genk plant started, local Ford management read a letter announcing the move at a specially called council , Christian Democrat union representative Johan Lamers said.

`'This is taking us by surprise and is an extremely bitter pill," Lamers told the Associated Press.

Ford Motor Co. has been under pressure in Europe due to the region's dwindling demand for its cars and reflects the overall slide of car sales in Europe.

The plant in Genk makes the midsize Mondeo and the S-MAX minivan. The company expects to lose more than $1 billion this year in Europe, where it gets a quarter of its sales. Analysts say the company has more factory capacity than it needs.

Lamers said the production of the Mondeo will move to Valencia, Spain.

Ford has been struggling in Europe. Figures from Acea, the European carmakers' association, show an overall slide of sales for the European market of 10.8 percent on a year-by-year basis in September. Meanwhile, Ford's drop in sales was 14.9 percent.

Ford's European management was expected to meet with Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and regional Flemish authorities later Wednesday.

The announcement came barely a month after Ford had given reassurances about production at the Genk plant, Lamers said.

Ford Genk represents more than 30 percent of car production in Belgium.

Workers took the announcement early Wednesday with relative calm. A fire was set up at the gate of the plant but there was little action _ especially since the factory was in the middle of a three-week layoff because of slack demand.