A demonstration to protest plans to build a grand mosque in Finland took an unexpected turn on Saturday when a separate group appeared to demonstrate against the protestors.
“Only the anti-mosque demonstration had been planned, but then a group of leftist demonstrators decided to march to the Senate Square from the Government Palace,” said Yle reporter Riikka Luukkonen.
Some 150 protestors gathered at the square to protest the grand mosque plan, but no accurate count of the number of people who took part in the counter-demonstration is available.
Helsinki Police kept the two opposing groups separate during the demonstrations.
The protest against the grand mosque was arranged by the Finnish Defence League, a group that says it is against radical Islam and for democracy and freedom. Members say the nationalist group condemns racism and violence, and is politically and religiously unaffiliated.
Lahti resident Lasse Koskinen says he opposes the grand mosque because it serves as a kind of symbol.
“We must defend our Finnish culture, and it seems as though we will have to defend ourselves against terrorism too, during the invasion we are experiencing at present,” he said.
Koskinen says the demonstrators opposing the grand mosque don’t hate religion. Rather, they are opposed to the mosque because they don’t believe it fits into the Finnish landscape.
“We are not opposed to Islam, but we are against extremist Muslims and terrorism - of which we saw a shocking example today in Paris. We are frightened all the while that something will happen in Finland before long.”