GREECE and France were hit by a new wave of strikes yesterday as governments battled bitter public discontent over cuts in benefits and rising unemployment.

Workers in Greece laid down tools as international auditors wrapped up their negotiations with the Greek government. Athens has so far fallen short of implementing austerity reforms to receive the next ??8bn instalment of its ??110bn bail-out by the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission. The reforms include the loss of thousands of public service jobs and cuts to healthcare benefits.

Hundreds of cars in Athens lined up at petrol stations after oil refineries suspended supplies, and public servants blocked the entrances to several ministries.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said both sides had agreed to additional cost-cutting measures worth ?6bn for 2013-14, without going into greater detail. He also said the country, which has sovereign debt of more than ?350bn, would discuss improved debt rollover terms from its private creditors under an additional EU bail-out agreement reached in July.

In France, transport workers went on strike over budget cuts, and public demonstrations were planned for later in the day. Five unions planned action against a new round of programmes aimed at cutting the public deficit.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced ?12bn of savings for this year and next but - hesitant to introduce belt-tightening measures ahead of an election next year - he has mostly focused on scrapping tax breaks for the wealthy. Sapa-DPA, Reuters