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Climate activists begin 10-day protest in downtown Helsinki

The estimated 1,000 protestors are calling on Finland's government to declare a climate and environmental emergency.

Climate protestors outside Parliament buildings on Wednesday evening. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle
Yle News

A climate protest organised by the Finnish branch of the global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion, Elopkapina, began on Wednesday evening on Helsinki's main thoroughfare Mannerheimintie.

The 'August Rebellion', or Syyskapina, is calling on Finland's government to declare a climate and environmental emergency, and to create binding legislation that will achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, a decade ahead of the government's current goal of 2035.

The organisers have indicated that the demonstration may last up to 10 days, or until Friday 8 October, with police warning that the protest could cause significant disruption to traffic as there are an estimated 1,000 protestors involved.

Speaking on Yle's Uusimaa regional news bulletin on Wednesday evening, shortly after the demonstration began, Helsinki police superintendent Jarmo Heinonen said the police have ordered the organisers to end the event.

"The police have now ordered an end to the demonstration, insofar as we have considered this to be a legal demonstration," Heinonen said. "Now there is a crowd here that from the police's point of view should not be there, and our job is to somehow disperse that crowd in some way."

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Climate protestors on Helsinki's Mannerheimintie, Wednesday 29 September. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

Prior to the beginning of the protest, Helsinki police chief Heikki Porola told Yle that the police had asked the organisers to move the demonstration to Kansalaistori square, where there would be less disruption to city centre traffic, but the request was refused.

Porola added that the police do not intend to allow the protestors to remain on traffic lanes.

"If we can move the demonstrators to the footpath, for example, the demonstration may continue. When there is an unreasonable inconvenience to traffic, we cannot allow the demonstration to continue because it does not comply with the Assembly Act," he said.

Extinction Rebellion activist Elok Sloan told Yle that the protestors refused the police's request because the demonstration is intended to cause disruption.

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Activists Eeva Rajakangas and Elsi Sloan. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

"That is its purpose and it is reasonable in relation to the thing we are demanding. If we were at the Kansalaistori square shouting our case, it would not get the same media attention as we are getting now," Sloan said.

"We want to be in a place where politicians cannot bypass us," activist Eeva Rajakangas said. "We are living in a climate crisis. Either we as a society take responsibility for it or this descends into chaos. I don't want that. I want to think that there is still hope."

Politicians widely condemn movement's methods

Earlier in the day, Finnish politicians from both government and opposition parties had criticised the movement's plans to disrupt traffic in the capital for up to 10 days.

The opposition National Coalition Party's (NCP) vice chair Antti Häkkänen stated that everyone has a right to protest, but not in any location under any conditions.

"Other people have the right to live a normal life, go to work, daycare and hobbies, and to enjoy freedom of movement. In other words, no one has the right to unreasonably infringe on the rights of others," Häkkänen said.

Among the government's coalition parties, MPs from both the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Centre told Yle that they disapproved of the group's protest methods.

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Helsinki police superintendent Jarmo Heinonen told Yle that the police have ordered the protestors to end the demonstration. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

"There are many ways in Finland to express an opinion other than by blocking the traffic on Mannerheimintie for several days, even 10 days," chair of the SDP's Parliamentary group Antti Lindtman said.

Li Andersson, chair of coalition partner the Left Alliance party, told Yle she was too busy to be interviewed about the protest, but her party colleague MP Mai Kivelä said the protestors have a right to demonstrate.

"Demonstration is a civil right guaranteed by the constitution," Kivelä said. "If it is a matter of peaceful civil disobedience, then that is part of democracy."

President calls for "responsibility"

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö indirectly commented on the Extinction Rebellion demonstration in a post on his official Facebook page, which his Twitter account also shared.

"Finns are deeply concerned about climate change," the President wrote. "In Finland, law and order and its administrators are also highly valued. Let's take responsibility for both at the same time."

Finland's President raised the topic of climate change during a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York last week.

"We are indeed at a critical juncture. If humanity is to make the right choice, a breakthrough rather than a breakdown, we have to shoulder our human responsibilities. Responsibilities for our common future," Niinistö said.

A similar protest involving members of the Extinction Rebellion group last October was broken up by police after about six hours, during which officers used pepper spray to disperse the protesters.

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