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Police prepare for nationalist and far right marches on Independence Day, won’t ban Nazi salutes

Finnish police are preparing for several marches in Helsinki on independence day, but they will not necessarily ban Nazi salutes.

Soihtukulkue Töölöntorilla itsenäisyyspäivänä 2016.
Torchlit processions will be seen around Helsinki on Thursday. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Helsinki will play host to marches by nationalists, Nazis and antifascist groups on Thursday as the city gears up for Finland’s 101st independence day. In recent years far-right marches have grown in size each Independence Day, with counter-protesters also making their presence felt.

The National Police Board said on Tuesday that it had laid out guidelines for handling the marches, with an emphasis on the judgement of officers on the ground trumping hard and fast rules for behaviour and crowd control.

Police will not, for instance, necessarily stop people making Nazi salutes during their demonstrations. Konsta Arvelin of the board noted that Nazi salutes were not permitted in Sweden, for example.

“And everyone can consider for themselves whether that kind of thing is appropriate in this society,” said Arvelin, who added that the Nordic Resistance Movement was already at the boundaries of legally acceptable behaviour as shown by court proceedings to outlaw the organisation.

Along with the PVL march (known as ‘for freedom’ or ‘kohti vapautta’) there will be a ‘612’ march of nationalists, along with the traditional torchlit procession of students through the city centre and a ‘Helsinki without Nazis parade.

The marches will have staggered start times, but it is possible there will be some clashes between different groups.

The guidelines prepared for police emphasise that the police aim to stay neutral.

“Police ensure everyone’s safety and security and also everyone’s right to free assembly and freedom of speech,” read the text. “That also means PVL members and their supporters.”

The guidelines state that in the first, most peaceful situation, police will ensure everyone’s right to freedom of speech. In the second and third levels of readiness, police can consider measures to restore order--but there are no hard and fast rules as to what they must do, with officers on the ground granted broad discretion as to their tactics.

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