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Thursday's papers: Catalan leader visit, unfair matriculation, avian population crash

Papers today cover Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont's visit to Helsinki, a migraine-prone 18-year-old's exam troubles and bleak figures on bird populations.

An ortolan bunting, a small bird whose food is being poisoned. Image: Yle

Dailies this Thursday look into both domestic and international news. Of top concern to regional paper Aamulehti is the arrival of a certain high-profile travelling politician, complete with a warm welcome by a Finnish colleague.

The ex-president of the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain, Carles Puigdemont, is due to visit the Finnish Parliament Monday at the invitation of Centre Party MP Mikko Kärnä, chair of the domestic friendship association Friends of Catalonia.

The stance of Kärnä's organisation towards the exiled Puigdemont is a far cry from official Spanish policy, which has called for the ex-president to be locked up for inciting rebellion. Puigdemont, who was removed from office after the Catalan declaration of independence in late 2017, moved to Brussels and has been on the run from Spanish law, touring Europe and meeting with local allies and leaders.

Kärnä says in the AL piece that the rendezvous is certain to take place, even under the Spanish government's threat to void Puigdemont's passport.

Three other Catalonian independence leaders are still behind bars for their roles in last year's uprising.

Puigdemont will be giving a lecture on the complex Catalonian situation at the University of Helsinki on Friday, AL writes.

Matriculation headache

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat picks up a story this Thursday on an 18-year-old high school student whose medical condition has received little sympathy from the matriculation exam board – a cold shoulder that has even resulted in more than one hospitalisation.

Savonlinna art high school graduate-to-be Iida Hämäläinen suffers from recurring migraine attacks which she says can be completely debilitating. She has already suffered two serious episodes that resulted in urgent ambulance rides – both while taking her electronic matriculation exams, the final round of examinations that will earn Hämäläinen her diploma.

"These harrowing trips to the hospital are such a waste of resources, which could be avoided by organising a separate matriculation session on medical grounds," says Hämäläinen's mother Sanna in IS.

Several teachers and two neurologists all officially concur that staring at a screen for several intense hours can trigger Hämäläinen's symptoms, but their entreaties have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Hämäläinen's condition has come and gone since childhood, she says, starting up again for real in high school. Even in the face of ongoing exam board stonewalling, Hämäläinen says she is grateful to her school.

"The staff have been very understanding of any trouble in class with my migraines. I haven't had to do a single electronic exam so far, although I tried in my first year."

Hämäläinen is now gearing up for her exams on religious studies and English by practicing on-screen tests with an aide. Her family says they are ready to fight for her right to complete her studies without risk to her health.

"Our case is now in the Helsinki Administrative Court, and we'll go the Supreme Court or even European Court of Human Rights," says mother Sanna in IS.

Poison decimates bird numbers

Top circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat turns its attention to nature, reporting that a widespread bird population decrease is worrying European researchers. Populations of field-dwelling birds have fallen by a third.

Whitethroats, warblers and skylarks are a rare sight than ever dotting French skies, with biologist Benoit Fontaine calling the situation "catastrophic".

"Our countryside is becoming an actual wasteland," he told HS, after breaking the news via British paper The Guardian on Wednesday.

Fontaine's research shows that the number one culprit causing the species decline is the use of industrial insecticides, which don't harm the birds themselves but are wiping out their food sources.

The situation is little better in Finland, says Markku Mikkola-Roos from the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE).

"If our insect populations plummet, that will have dire effects on the birds' ecosystem," he says.

Finland has special EU permission to use potentially harmful neonicotinoid pesticides to douse oilseed plants. Still, things aren't as bad here as in France according to SYKE expert Marjaana Toivonen.

"Our agricultural landscape is more diverse: the fields are smaller, and there are more uncultivated areas around them where birds can find sufficient shelter. Maybe," she tells HS.

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