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Thursday's papers: Finns Party upset, drowning statistics and taxi driver shortage

Today's papers report the Finns Party's distress about Islamic studies, a spike in drownings and an unexpected consequence of taxi liberalisation.

Exterior of the main building of the University of Helsinki.
The main building of the Helsinki University Image: Jyki Lyytikkä / Yle

Uusi Suomi reports that Jussi Halla-aho, chair of the nationalist Finns Party, is upset about the decision by Helsinki University to start teaching Islamic theology.

According to Uusi Suomi, Halla-aho asks in a Facebook posting why the academic institution prioritises Islam over classical archaeology and antique culture – a discipline which the university will shortly discontinue due to funding cuts.

“The goal is to help us Finns better understand the Islamic minority which has been forcibly created here and of course prevent them from radicalisation,” Halla-aho says.

The dean of the faculty of theology, Antti Räsänen, defends the university’s decision by saying the two matters are completely unrelated.

“We have received strategic funding from the education ministry to teach Islamic theology. This is not a zero-sum game,” Räsänen explains in Uusi Suomi.

Earlier this week, two other Finns Party MPs, Ville Tavio and Sami Savio, said Mulki Al-Sharmani, the new lecturer in Islamic theology, has publicly defended Sharia law.

Räsänen calls these claims “baseless and odd.”

“This sounds quite far-fetched. Clearly this is about something else than just the faculty’s plan to teach and conduct research,” he adds.

According to Räsänen, Al-Sharmani was selected from among several qualified domestic and international applicants for the position.

“I do not in any way doubt her competence as a researcher.”

In addition, Räsänen said the number of Muslims in Finland has increased in the past decades and thereby strengthened the role of the religion.

“Of course a university wants to react and remain contemporary in its research,” he said according to Uusi Suomi.

Drowning figures

Meanwhile, tabloid Iltalehti reports that 21 people have drowned during July so far.

Anne Hiltunen from the Finnish swimming teaching and lifesaving federation says the long heat wave is to blame for the large number of deaths on water. Drunkenness and carelessness also tend to cause a spike in the statistics, she says.

“About 60 percent of those who drown are under the influence of alcohol.”

In addition, most of the people who drowned this month were men and over 60-year-olds.

“Women are more prone to wear life vests and do not recklessly try to swim across the lake and such,” Hiltunen says.

Nevertheless, the number of drowned is not exceptionally high. In July 2010, there was a similar prolonged period of heat and 50 people drowned in that month alone, Hiltunen adds.

In all, statistics for 2018 show that 40 people drowned in Finland by mid-July, and one Finn drowned abroad.

Taxi driver shortage

In other news, daily Karjalainen features a story about the shortage on taxi drivers. According to the paper, Jari Kantonen from Taksi Helsinki says he could hire hundreds of new drivers immediately, while Esa Niinivaara from Vantaan Taksi says the lack of drivers is really bad.

New rules on transportation, which became effective at the start of July, have transformed the taxi trade, Karjalainen says.

"Many drivers quit already before the 1st of July, fearing that their income would plummet," Niinivaara says.

At the same time, more and more customers order rides by phone or mobile phone applications.

“Customers want a recognised and trustworthy taxi company,” says Kantonen.

According to the paper, new drivers must pass a two-part exam, which tests general topics related to taxi trade, such as passenger safety, as well as local knowledge.

Hannu Pellikka from Ajovarma, which administers the tests, says his company has received 650 applications so far.

"It’s more than before but we have not seen a flood of test takers," he says.

In the first two weeks of July about a third of the test takers failed the theory part, while close to a half did not pass the local knowledge test, Karjalainen reports.

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