PARIS (AP) _ France's finance minister on Friday gave taxpayers struggling to complete their returns an extra two weeks to file as a result of a strike by civil servants against plans to streamline the system.

The original deadline was Mar. 15 but Christian Sautter said people would now have until midnight on Mar. 31 to send in their completed tax forms.

``The fact is there are strikes in the tax administration and the principal victims are ordinary people. There are some 3 million who need help to fill in their tax form. I do not want people to become victims of this conflict,'' the minister told Europe-1 radio.

The ministry has denied union claims that a plan to streamline tax collection by regrouping local tax offices will lead to job losses.

Strikers fear that numerous small offices, particularly in the countryside, will be shut down with a loss of 15,000 jobs.

Sautter was due to meet trade unions Friday to kick off negotiations aimed at resolving the two-week old dispute. The minister has been criticized for fueling civil servants' fears with a clumsy presentation of the reforms.

The talks come after a day of action Thursday, when civil servants across the country set up pickets at many tax offices. Unions said just over 50 percent of the country's tax offices were affected. The finance ministry put participation at 40 percent of the workforce.

Unions have called a nationwide demonstration Mar. 16.