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President "worried" about synagogue vandalism, burning of Israeli flag

The Central Finland police department said that it is looking into what measures it can possibly take.

kuvakaappaus kohtivapautta-sivustolta
A screenshot from the Towards Freedom (Kohti vapautta ) website in 2019. Image: kuvakaappaus kohtivapautta-sivustolta

President Sauli Niinistö has expressed concern about two recent incidents that he said suggested "broader racism" in Finland.

In one case, a Jewish synagogue in Turku was targeted by vandals, while another involved a neo-Nazi group that burned an Israeli flag in Tampere.

President Sauli Niinistö described the vandalism cases as very worrying. He said it suggested broader racism.

"This certainly seems to be the case in Turku and flags were burned in Tampere as well. It is very worrying. But what can be done? We do have cases ongoing in the justice system and that is good. I will say more about the matter," he added.

Neo-Nazi group burns Israeli flag in Tampere

The Central Finland police department said on Tuesday that it was looking into the flag-burning incident that took place on Monday and involved the neo-Nazi group "Towards Freedom" (Kohti vapautta in Finnish).

The group has claimed responsibility for burning the flag during a demonstration in Tampere. Monday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, an occasion that marked 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

At the time a large, unrelated demonstration was taking place at Tampere’s main market square. It involved members of an Indian group opposing attacks against teachers and students at a major university in Delhi, India. Staff and students at the Indian university had in turn protested new legislation that many believed unfairly targetted Muslims.

The Central Finland police department said that officers visited the scene and spoke with the persons who burned the flag. Department communications officer to Nina Juurakko-Vesikko said that the flag burning occurred while the demonstrations were ongoing, and that police focused on controlling the protests.

The group "Towards Freedom" is considered an offshoot of the now-banned neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement. Last year, the Helsinki police department blocked the group from demonstrating during Independence Day celebrations. The National Bureau of Investigation had previously investigated the movement for operating an illegal association.

The Central Finland police department said that it is looking into what measures it can possibly take. On Monday, it was still not clear whether or not it would launch an investigation.

Penalties only for burning Finnish flag

Police reportedly monitored the movements of the "Towards Freedom" protesters until the flag burners left the scene. Police did not detain anyone at the scene.

"In Finland, there are only penalties for burning the Finnish flag," Juurakko-Vesikko noted.

Police did not offer any additional comments when asked whether or not there would be an investigation.

On Monday, media in Turku reported on a vandal attack on a Jewish synagogue in Turku. In that case, the building’s steps, main doors and walls had been smeared with red paint. The synagogue is one of just two in Finland – the other is located in Helsinki.

Turku city council condemns vandalism

Meanwhile all members of the Turku city council have endorsed a motion to condemn the act of vandalism against the Turku synagogue.

The motion was brainchild of National Coalition Party councillor Alvar Euro. The party groups that signed the motion described the act of vandalism as incomprehensible and inhuman. They said that "the language spoke by the symbolism of the act is not needed in this city or anywhere else in the country".

The motion was signed by councillors from the National Coalition Party, the Left Alliance, the Finns Party, Swedish People’s Party, Christian Democrats and the Blue Reform. The councillor for the independent one-man group "Voice of Reason" (Järjen ääni in Finnish also supported the motion.

Edit: Updated at 12.38pm to include reaction of the Turku city council to the act of vandalism on the local synagogue.

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