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Finnish Defence Forces honour Mannerheim, show off new equipment

On Sunday Finland salutes the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Marshal of Finland, C.G.E Mannerheim (1867-1951), a military hero who also served as president. It is also the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) and Whitsun on the majority Lutheran calendar.

Tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö otti paraatin vastaan sunnuntaina Helsingissä.
Reviewing the troops in front of the Music Centre was President Sauli Niinistö. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The National Flag Day Parade began under sunny skies on Sunday afternoon on Helsinki's main thoroughfare, Mannerheimintie, named after the Marshal of Finland. The street is lined with spectators as the Guards Band played in front of the Helsinki Music Centre, not far from the equestrian statue of Mannerheim.

Reviewing the troops in front of the Music Centre was President Sauli Niinistö and the FDF Commander, General Jarmo Lindberg. Commanding the troops was the Army Chief of Staff, Major General Petri Hulkko.

Speaking before the parade at Senate Square, Niinistö said that Finland's security rests in four pillars.

Puolustusvoimien paraati Senaatintorilla.
Troops in Senate Square Image: Juha Vuohelainen / Yle

"Our pillars are our national defence and security, Western integration, relations with Russia and the international system, particularly its structure, basis in regulations and manageability," the president said.

Traditionally non-aligned, Finland and neighbouring Sweden have moved closer to NATO in recent years, becoming "enhanced" members of its Partnership for Peace programme but stopping short of actual NATO membership.

Niinistö did not directly refer to Saturday night's terror attacks in London, on which he had earlier issued a statement. However he noted that the threat of terrorism affects Finns as well.

Expanded military parade and overflight this year

This year's Flag Day Parade was more extensive than usual, marking both Finland's centenary and the Mannerheim anniversary.

Such parades have been held annually since 1952, with every fifth parade held in the capital to mark major anniversaries of Finnish independence.

Taking part in this year's procession were some 1,300 people, along with 50 vehicles from all three Services as well as the National Defence University, the Border Guard and veterans' and defence organisations. These range from all-terrain motorcycles and scooters to tanks and grenade launchers.

New Korean howitzer on show

Also on show was a newly-acquired South Korean K9 Thunder self-propelled 155 mm howitzer. The FDF announced earlier this year that it is buying nearly 50 of these second-hand K9's, which were designed by Samsung. Delivered by 2024 at a price tag of 146 million euros, they will replace most of Finland's antiquated Soviet-designed artillery systems.

About 20 airplanes and helicopters flew overhead as part of the procession. These included Hornet and Hawk jets as well as NH90 transport helicopters and a Border Guard Super Puma rescue helicopter.

The public can view military hardware on display at Senate Square, Citizens' Square and at the South Harbour. There is also a military band concert at Citizens' Square, behind the Music Centre, from 3 to 6 pm.

Yle will broadcast highlights of the day's events beginning just after 5 pm on TV1 and Areena.

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