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Helsinki University occupiers allowed to stay during defence event with president

A core group of protesters will be allowed to stay during the evening event.

Dozens of students with signs and banners on steps of yellow university building.
University of Helsinki students have been staging a protest for the past week at the university's main building. Image: Matti Myller / Yle
Yle News

Protesters occupying University of Helsinki's main building will not have to leave in order to make room for an event in the evening, with guests that include Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.

In its ninth day, the student occupation is a protest against Prime Minister Petteri Orpo's (NCP) government's planned austerity measures.

At about 1pm on Thursday, the university's vice-rector Kai Nordlund announced that the protesters will be permitted to stay during the meeting.

He said a core group of protesters will be allowed to stay in the lobby and second floor of the building.

Earlier in the day demonstrators said they might be forced to relocate, at least temporarily. They said in the morning they were given a deadline of 11am to vacate the building's lobby, but the protest continued.

Niinistö is to make the opening address at a seminar held by the National Defence Course Association.

He entered through the lobby shortly before 6pm, but did not stop to talk with the protesters.

"The University of Helsinki is about to kick the occupiers of the main building. According to our information, on Thursday 28.9. The main building is rented for the national defence course association and the opening speech of the event will be given by the president, Sauli Niinistö," the protesters said in an Instagram post before being informed they would not be asked to move.

In the English version of the post's caption, the protesters elaborated, saying that there is a chance police may become involved in the students' removal.

Police had not intervened as of 2pm on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, the University of Helsinki's property manager, Marita Rovamo, said the institution had no plans to force the demonstrators to leave.

"We have never said that we will drive the protesters away. We have conducted negotiations and suggested other premises where they can stay during the event. We must ensure that the course can be arranged in a safe manner," Rovamo said.

She noted that hundreds of people are scheduled to attend the defence event and they need to be able to do so safely.

Rovamo also said that the student protesters still have the university's support.

"We still support them in their efforts to stop the government's austerity plans, we just have to ensure that tonight's event will be organised in a safe manner," Rovamo said.

Not the first time

However, the protesters also noted on Instagram that this was not the first time that demonstrators have occupied the university's premises.

"History is repeating itself and connects the occupation of the University of Helsinki's Main Building in 2023 to the occupation of the Old Student House in 1968 when President [Urho] Kekkonen was prevented from attending the Student Union's 100th anniversary celebrations. At that time, Kekkonen allowed the students to continue the occupation and thanked them for their activism," the post read.

"At no point have we sought to prevent the use of the space. We have proposed to the university the idea of sharing the space with the renters."

"The university leadership has refused to negotiate with us about remaining in the space. University representatives have also not been willing to disclose which organisation is renting the space. We are being moved out of our own space, and our right to demonstrate in the space we have chosen is being restricted," the post continued.

12:46: Photo changed.

18:28: Updated with Niinistö arrival.

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