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Finland Celebrates 88 Years of Independence

Finland celebrated 88 years of independence with all the traditional fanfare. The culmination of the day is traditionally the Presidential Ball, which was broadcast live and is usually the year's most-watched programme.

The 1700 guests included notables from former presidents to athletes, bishops to pop stars. Among those honoured this year were former 'war children' who were evacuated overseas during World War Two and those involved in recovery after last December's tsunami.

The first guests to shake the president's hand, as usual, were recipients of the country's highest wartime honour, the Mannerheim Cross. These two survivors were men who, according to the criteria of the medal, displayed tremendous courage and heroism on the battlefield.

The ceremonies for the day started at nine in the morning in Helsinki, when the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity hoisted the flag on downtown Helsinki's highest hill.

One of the day's main events, the annual Defence Forces parade, took place in Lahti. More than 1,000 men and women as well as more than 100 military vehicles took part.

Another Independence Day tradition took place in Helsinki's Hakaniemi Square. Hursti's Ball, or the Poor People's Ball as it is sometimes called, provided warm meals and clothing to the city's disadvantaged. The tradition was started by the late working-class activist Veikko Hursti, and is now continued by his son Heikki.

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