March 17 (UPI) — More than 300 people have been arrested amid protests against French President Emmanuel Macron‘s decision to bypass the French legislature to apply changes to pension policy, including an increase to the age of eligibility from 62 to 64.
Most of the arrests were in Paris, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the local RTL radio station. Hundreds of protesters there briefly blocked traffic early Friday.
Darmanin warned against disruptive actions, which have included burning effigies of government officials, targeting public buildings and starting fires.
“The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not,” he said, according to The Guardian.
Union members in the energy sector voted to escalate a rolling strike at the northern site of TotalEnergies de Normandieto to halt production by Monday. Transport workers and teacher also plan strikes next week.
Macron invoked Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, which allows the president to bypass the legislature, to force the measure through.
Critics have called the move by Macron undemocratic, but he has defended it, claiming it is necessary to accommodate retirees who live longer while too few younger people enter the workforce to drive the economy.
According to Macron and his Renaissance Party, the French Pensions Advisory Council projects a $10.73 billion yearly deficit over the next decade.
A provision that would require workers to contribute to the pension for 43 years to be eligible has angered trade unions.
Laurent Berger, the secretary-general of France’s largest trade union, the CFDT, said “by resorting to [Article] 49.3, the government demonstrates that it does nog have a majority to approve the two-year postponement of the legal retirement age.”
French transportation and garbage disposal workers have periodically gone on strike during the past two months in opposition to the changes.