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Ku Klux Klan-clad protester in Lahti anti-asylum seeker demonstration

A group of asylum seekers brought to stay at a former barracks in the Hennala district in Lahti Thursday evening were confronted by protesters carrying Finnish flags hurling fireworks and stones. One of them was dressed in the distinctive robes of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan movement. Interior Ministry Permanent Secretary Päivi Nerg described the events as an isolated incident.

Noin kymmenen ihmistä osoitti mieltään turvapaikanhakijoiden tuloa vastaan Hennalan ex-varuskunnan portilla Lahdessa.
Police confirmed the presence of 30 - 40 protesters opposing the arrival of asylum seekers in Lahti. One of them wore the robes of the white supremacist movement the Ku Klux Klan. Image: Heikki Ahonen / Yle

Yle reports that a group of asylum seekers who were being transported to hastily-arranged accommodation at a former army barracks in Lahti’s Hennala district were met by a group of 30 - 40 individuals protesting the presence of the new arrivals.

The demonstrators chucked fireworks at the bus in which the asylum seekers were travelling, many of which exploded with a loud bang.

The bus contained some 49 people, the majority of whom were fleeing violence in Iraq. The group also included small children, as well as infants in arms, according to Yle’s reporter on the scene, Kirsti Pohjaväre.

Senior Constable Esa Mäkelä of the Lahti police department confirmed the number of demonstrators and said that two of them were fined for throwing fireworks.

As the bus approached the area where the barracks were located, Finnish Red Cross workers were on hand to guide the refugees to the reception centre.

Stones hurled at Finnish Red Cross workers

Yle reporters say the unrest in Hennala began roughly half an hour before the buses began to arrive, with protesters pelting rocks at the Red Cross workers as they took coffee to guards manning the gates of the complex.

However no one was injured during the stoning incident. On Friday morning three additional buses arrived on the scene. A total of 250 people are expected to arrive at the Hennala centre.

Earlier in the evening another Yle journalist, Heikki Ahonen, reported on the group, whom he said comprised mainly young men. Ahonen noted the presence of the Ku Klux Klan-clad  individual and described the scene at the time as mostly calm. He also noted that officials had not intervened in the situation at that time.

In a separate incident in Kouvola Thursday night, police held a 50-year old man who threw a Molotov cocktail at an emergency shelter. No harm was done, as guards were able to put out the fire.

Interior Ministry PS: Lahti case an "isolated incident"

Meanwhile Interior Ministry Permanent Secretary Päivi Nerg said she’s satisfied with police actions in Hennala. She added that security officials had been prepared for the possible consequences of establishing a reception centre in the area.

"The role of the police in such situations is to handle them as quickly and as proactively as possible to ensure that nothing happens to anyone," Nerg told Yle Friday morning.

Nerg described the events in Lahti as an isolated incident, but admitted that Interior Ministry officials were concerned about resistance to housing asylum seekers.

"All of the reception centres are being placed in communities where there haven’t been many people with foreign backgrounds. These are small-scale incidents but we have prepared well for them to guarantee the safety of asylum seekers as well as other people living in the area," Nerg commented.

A few weeks ago the Interior Ministry established a crisis management team under Nerg’s leadership. The permanent secretary said that the Ministry has so far remained on top of the refugee situation. But she acknowledged that in retrospect, all of the Ministry’s actions have so far lagged behind current developments.

She pointed out however that the establishment of a central asylum seeker registration hub in Tornio, northern Finland, had helped bring the situation under control.

Edit: This article was updated at 2.16 pm to indicate that two people had been fined for using fireworks, not one as had been previously reported. It was also updated to include information about police detention of a man in Kouvola for lobbing a Molotov cocktail at an emergency shelter for asylum seekers.

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