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Interior Minister requests report from police after use of force at protest march

Helsinki police have been criticized for their decision to ban a car and use tasers during a demonstration on Saturday.

Kulkueen lähtiessä liikkeelle torilta poliisi myös esti järjestäjien ajoneuvon liittymisen kulkueeseen.
A car with a sound system was banned from joining the procession. Image: Irene Stachon / Lehtikuva

Finland's Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo has called for the Helsinki Police to clarify their actions during a demonstration against the Turkish incursion into Syria that took place in the capital city on 19 October.

"The duty of the police is to safeguard the basic rights of both the demonstrators and bystanders. Trust in the police must be kept strong, so a sense of security can grow. I have requested a report from the police based on the recent demonstrations," the minister tweeted.

Decisions made by the Helsinki Police and their use of force during the protest have gathered considerable condemnation from the protest's organizers and participants, some of whom have accused the force of police provocation.

During the protest, Helsinki Police blocked the departure of a car with a sound system that was being used by the demonstration's organizers. The incident took place at the departure point of the march, the Narinkkatori square in front of the Kamppi shopping complex in the city centre.

The situation eventually led to law enforcement officers breaking the car window and removing the keys to prevent the car from passing. The police were also reported to have used a taser on at least one protester.

The protest organizer, a group called Yhdessä Rojavan puolesta (Together for Rojava) claims that the police "ultimately attacked the demonstration".

Police: Car ban prompted by safety concerns

Chief Commissioner Jere Roimu, who acted as the general director of the police situation centre during the march, said that a police decision had been made before the event not to allow the car with the sound system to join the march.

"In a previous similar demonstration, the protestors had a car. That protest ended in the embassy area, where property damage occurred. The protesters were moving and running around the embassy area, causing the car to drive among the people," he said.

Roimu said that the police also had reason to believe that the march might divert from its original, agreed-upon route and end up in the Kaivopuisto embassy area again.

The commissioner said the decision to ban the car with the sound system on Saturday was not only prompted by the earlier event, but also by a concern for the safety of the demonstrators and others, as the march was to move along several main roads in Helsinki and many small children were about.

Protest organizers say they were not informed

The protest's organizers say the police did not inform them ahead of time that the car would not be allowed to join the march, saying it had not been a problem earlier. They also said that the police refused to give any kinds of grounds for the ban.

Roimu says the police drove one of their cars in front of the sound system car to stop it, and then broke a window and took the keys. Several protesters began pushing the police at this point, he says, and so the officers were compelled to use tasers.

"The police were being heavily resisted. Tasers were used to break up this opposition. The police always utilise the most lenient use of force," he said, in explanation for the decision.

Previous demo resulted in property damage

Roimu says that horses, police dogs and heavier equipment were employed because of what had happened in the Kaivopuisto area during the last protest.

"The police raised preparedness levels because the previous demonstration did not follow the agreed-upon rules and did not proceed peacefully," he said.

Helsinki Police suspect several individuals of violent resistance to the police, and suspect the protest organizers of violating Finland's rules of assembly. Roimu says the rules of assembly violation stems from the organizer's disregard for police orders and instructions with regard to using the car.

One example of violent resistance to the police from the incident is that the car drove towards the police officers to force them to move.

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