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Friday's papers: Beefing up the Border Guard, new airport plaza, mysterious bird deaths and 13 million kilos of strawberries

The last paper review of the week looks into changes at Finland's borders, airport expansion plans, dead birds in Helsinki but not Turku, and the late arrival of the country's top berry.

Heinäkuun 2017 mansikoita
Image: Minna Rosvall / Yle

The country’s largest circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat starts out this Friday with a story on Finland’s plans to beef up its Border Guard with more training, staff and extended powers. HS says the latest issue of the Defence Forces’ weekly paper Ruotuväki outlines targets of 120 new trained guards in 2017 and again in 2018. The Border Guard currently employs over 2,700 people, almost all of whom are military officers.

The Interior Ministry’s top civil servant Päivi Nerg says the move is the result of a government decision in the spring to boost patrolling on the eastern border. "In practice, the number of guards will be restored to previous levels. There was a reduction at one point," she told the paper.

Border guards will also have more extensive powers at border crossing points in the future, after a bill granting them the same working latitude as police officers is made into law. They already have permission to use machine guns in their work starting this month. The legal change is part of Finland's efforts to improve the country's readiness in the face of hybrid threats.

"Border guards would have the authorisation to take action at international crossing points during serious disturbances. This includes the power to access confidential information in a hostage situation, for example. At present, such a situation would require police leadership," Ari-Pekka Koivisto of the Board Guard headquarters tells the paper.

The draft bill would also allow the Border Guard to provide military assistance to the police in anti-terrorism efforts, and vice-versa if police backup at the border proves necessary. The Finnish Parliament will decide whether to vote the motion into law this autumn, and the changes would come into force in 2018.

Flash new airport plaza in the works

Next, Helsingin Uutiset delves into the seemingly endless development work at the Helsinki Airport, the largest international airport in Finland. The paper focuses on a new central plaza at the junction of the south and west wings of the expanded airport, scheduled for completion in early 2019. The new south wing of the airport was unveiled and taken into use this Monday.

When it is complete, the plaza will feature shops, restaurants and a security check. It will host seasonal exhibits and function as a pop-up venue for advertisers and entertainment. Ville Haapasaari, state-owned airport operator Finavia's CEO, says the new wood-panelled plaza will function as the heart of the expansion, serving arriving and departing long-haul passengers.

Helsinki Airport hopes to become a market leader for travel between Asia and Europe, and Finavia believes the 900-million-euro expansion will make it possible to serve 20 million passengers by 2020.

Geese and gulls dying in droves in Helsinki

Moving away from Helsinki for a moment, Turun Sanomat out of Finland's former capital city of southwest Turku looks into mystery. Why are barnacle geese and seagulls dying by the dozens in Helsinki and not Turku?  The birds have been dying in droves off the coast of Helsinki, and in the islands off coastal cities nearby as far out as Inkoo in the west and Porvoo in the east. The phenomenon was first reported on Thursday by Helsingin Sanomat.

Avian flu has already been ruled out. The Finnish Environment Institute's senior researcher Markku Mikkola-Roos tells TS that Finland has never seen anything like it before. "I found over 20 dead adult nesting birds on the shores of (the Helsinki island district of) Katajanokka. I had to put several birds that were in bad shape down, and they were examined at Evira." He said the food safety watchdog found no clear cause of death.

Mikkola-Roos says birds have not been dying in Turku, another coastal city, and geese and gulls that are nesting inland have also been spared. He personally suspects that the gulls that frequent the Ämmässuo landfill are somehow responsible. "European herring gulls defecate into ponds formed on islets, and only the gulls and geese drink from these ponds. We haven't found a single dead tern, for example. But it's still hard to say the real reason behind it quite yet."

The berries are here, the berries are here!

To finish, a story from the Karjalainen newspaper out of the eastern border region of Joensuu announcing the joyous news: the strawberry crop is finally ripe! 

Weeks late due to the chilly spring and summer, Finnish strawberries have already been harvested in western Finland, but Karjalainen says the picking will start this week in the south and central areas, too. Because the season comes so late, there will be plenty of strawberries to be had well into August, the paper rejoices.

Growers say that despite the delay, the harvest will be more abundant and of a better quality than last year. The federation of fruit and berry growers in Finland predicts a haul of 13 to 14 million kilos.

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