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Russian president's tardiness tests activists' patience in Helsinki

Russian President Vladimir Putin was about two hours late for his meeting with opposite number Sauli Niinistö.

Members of the Defence Forces keep an eye on protesters in Helsinki on Wednesday afternoon. Image: Laura Hyyti / Yle

After touching down at the Helsinki Airport just shy of 4.30pm, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally met his host Sauli Niinistö at the Presidential Palace in downtown Helsinki just after 5.00pm, around two hours behind schedule.

The heads exchanged pleasantries as their meeting began, with Putin saying via an interpreter that bilateral relations between the two countries had developed positively.

The Russian President’s arrival in Finland resulted in a major security operation in which the route between the airport and the city centre was closed to allow his motorcade to proceed unfettered.

Tourists and other members of the public were prohibited from the market square area near the Presidential Palace in downtown Helsinki. Image: Laura Hyyti / Yle

Helsinki police also said on Twitter that mass transit had been suspended on Mannerheimintie, while the market square opposite the official presidential residence had been cleared out and sealed off to the public, catching many tourists off-guard.

Activists with a message for Putin

Meanwhile NGOs and activists took advantage of Putin’s visit to the Finnish capital to send messages about the country’s human rights record, among other things.

Human rights organisation Amnesty said it wanted to use the opportunity to raise the issue of free elections while Putin was in Helsinki.

Amnesty protesters with a message for the Russian President, "Putin, why are you afraid?" Image: Laura Hyyti / Yle

Three young activists, Jasmiina Salin, Iida Niva and Maria Kiiskinen of the National Coalition Party’s youth wing said that they wanted to draw attention to concerns about democracy and minority rights in Russia.

Meanwhile demonstrators representing another organisation, Fee Russia (Vapaa Venäjä) called for the arrest of the Russian president.

Members of the National Coalition Party youth wing turned out to see Vladimir Putin. Image: Laura Hyyti / Yle

On Tuesday President Niinistö told an annual gathering of Finnish ambassadors that he might raise the issue of ongoing demonstrations in Moscow with Putin.

Protesters have been picketing and calling for free elections, following a decision to ban some opposition figures from local elections.

Niinistö said that there are no special frictions in Finnish-Russian bilateral relations and he stressed the importance of maintaining open discussion channels.

Niinistö and Putin arrive at Suomenlinna for dinner on Wednesday evening. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

The presidents and their staff completed the working day trip with dinner at the historic former island fortress, Suomenlinna.