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Thursday's papers: Blizzard, indecisive voters, bars to deportation

Heavy snowfall, a fresh political poll, and legal barriers to departing foreign sex offenders were all among the headlines in Thursday's newspaper press.

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Image: Markku Ojala / EPA

"Don't go to work today!" is the advice of Thursday's tabloid Iltalehti, in the wake of heavy snowfall overnight that promised to continue for much of Thursday. Total accumulation in and around the capital was forecast at up to 20cm of fresh snow.

Police are advising extreme caution while driving. Chief Inspector Jarkko Lehtinen pointed to three things that all motorists planning to drive today should do: make sure to clean snow and ice off your car as well as possible, reduce driving speed, and plan on taking more time than usual to get to your destination.

"The best alternative on a day like this is to not drive at all, and work at home," according to a tweet by Lehtinen that Iltalehti quotes.

Police expect to be busy throughout the day dealing with minor traffic accidents and cars that have skidded off the road. Lorries that have a tendency to get stuck on uphill grades are also expected to cause highway traffic jams.

"This always happens in Helsinki," Jarkko Lehtinen told the paper.

Police in the capital deployed 14 units on Thursday morning to deal specifically with snow-related incidents.

Battle of the giants

If you are fascinated by snow and/or big machines, Ilta-Sanomat has a treat for you Thursday morning.

Starting at 10.00am local time, its online service will be providing a life video feed of "giant snow ploughs battling the ferocious blizzard" at Helsinki Airport.

Thursday may well be one of the busiest days of the year for plough crews at the airport, even though, as the paper points out, cleaning drifts off the runways is business as usual for maintenance crews there.

Decision and indecision

Daily Helsingin Sanomat carries a fresh Gallup poll showing that voter support for the populist Finns Party is growing, while the Social Democrats' lead for the top spot over the conservative National Coalition Party is narrowing.

Looking forward to April's parliamentary elections, the SDP remains at 20.9% the most popular party with voters. That figure has, however declined slightly from Helsingin Sanomat's last poll, and the National Coalition Party was found to be a very close second at 19.5%. The difference is within the margin of error for the poll.

Regarding support for the Finns Party, the HS Gallup results also found the same general trend as seen in an Yle poll published last week.

HS ranked the Finns Party in fifth place, (9.7%) passing voter support for the Left Alliance. Helsingin Sanomat attributes the party's gains to the most recent public debate about immigration, and news of immigrants under investigation for sex crimes.

Only about half of the voters who cast ballots for Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's Centre Party in the last elections told pollsters that they were ready to renew that support right now. Around one-third were either unwilling to say what party they now back, or said that don't plan to vote at all. Many former Centre Party voters are now looking towards mainly the SDP or the National Coalition.

In an analysis in Helsingin Sanomat, columnist Marko Junkkari says that it is still too early to place bets on what party will come out on top in the April elections.

This is underscored by that fact that in this latest Gallup poll, the number of people who responded with "undecided", "unwilling to say" or "don't intend to vote" rose by six percentage points to 40% of those surveyed.

Junkkari points out that this means that hundreds of thousands of voters either do not know yet which party they will be voting for, or at least are not willing to name their choice out loud.

Barriers to deportation

The Turku-based Turun Sanomat reports that a call by the Blue Reform Party to deport foreign sex offenders even to countries deemed unsafe is not possible, even with changes to the constitution.

Outi Korhonen, Professor of International Law at the University of Turku, told the paper that she considers it odd that anyone would publicly call for Finland to ignore its international agreements.

The Blue Reform Party has gone as far as to call for a re-evaluation of the UN Refugee Convention.

Korhonen said that under international law the norm is that international agreements are observed as ratified. If changes are made this has to be done among all the parties to the agreement, not unilaterally.

She also pointed out that states function in an environment of reciprocity and co-dependency where deviating from jointly approved agreements and practice often boomerangs, coming back to cause problems.

Finland has made commitments under international law to observe the terms of human rights agreements, including the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Among the terms of the European human rights agreement and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is a ban on deporting refugees and asylum seekers if it would mean that they would face a death penalty, torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Juha Lavapuro, Professor of Public Law at the University of Turku, agreed with Korhonen, telling Turun Sanomat that even changing the constitution to allow for deportations to such countries would invalidate its international commitments.

"It would no longer be the constitution of a western democracy, if these kinds of exceptions were made," he added.

Sunny halos

Not all of Finland has been cloudy and snowy this week. Some northern parts of the country have enjoyed bright, brisk winter wonderland weather of late.

On Wednesday, there were widespread sightings in the north of sun halos caused by the refraction and reflection of sunlight through ice particles suspended within thin high altitude clouds.

In Oulu, Kaleva's Thursday issue features a gallery of sun halos captured by readers.

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