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(en) Finland, Helsinki: Anarchist demonstration corralled by huge police presence; over 100 held overnight

Date Mon, 11 Sep 2006 10:19:35 +0300


Downtown Helsinki cordoned off for several hours on Saturday evening
A huge police presence, almost unprecedented by Finnish standards,
boxed in and stifled the planned anarchist "Smash Asem"
demonstration and march on Saturday evening and restricted the
movement of other people in the downtown area of Helsinki.
Several dozen demonstrators were arrested on suspicion of malicious
damage, rioting, and incitement to cause a riot. No serious injuries
were reported, and the siege outside the Kiasma Contemporary Art
Museum was lifted at around 11 p.m, although for some time after
this there was still a heavy police presence.

The "Smash Asem" demonstration began peacefully at around 6 p.m.,
but was unable to move on from the gathering point in the square in
front of Kiasma by the arrival of around 200 riot police equipped with
shields, helmets, and truncheons.

Not merely the 300 or so demonstrators were hemmed in, but also
passers-by on their way home, journalists and cameramen, and people
who had turned up out of curiosity to see what was happening, and
whether the demonstrators would make good on their website pledge
to "bring at least a bit of disorder to the streets of Helsinki".

There were a further several hundred police officers behind the inner
ring, as well as five Helsinki City Transport buses arranged as a wall.

Some of the protesters hurled themselves against the police cordon in
an attempt to break through, and bottles and benches were thrown.
The police reported that some of the demonstrators were armed with
metal bars.

The police justified the three-hour standoff situation by saying that the
planned march would have presented a danger to local residents, with
a risk of damage to property and the potential to disrupt the Ecofin
gathering of EU ministers of finance, which was going on at the Pasila
Fair Centre at the time. Initially the march was to have headed for
Pasila.

Eventually the authorities announced they were interrupting the
protest after violent incidents and a refusal from the organisers to
negotiate.

A senior officer said that they had made repeated vain attempts to
contact the leader of the demonstrators and get details of the route for
the march.

People were allowed out of the enclosed area gradually in small
numbers after around an hour. Those coming out were photographed
and their bags and rucksacks were inspected.

Further scuffles with police took place close to the Lasipalatsi building
and the Forum shopping mall.

When police in the early stages urged the demonstrators to disperse
there was immediate movement, and bottles and eggs were thrown.
Apparently a firework rocket was also set off from outside the
cordoned-off area.

Those arrested, numbering in the several dozens, were taken to
Töölö and Pasila police stations. Some demonstrators were
carried or dragged away.

Early on Sunday morning the area was empty, except for people
clearing up the litter and debris. Little material damage was caused,
and police reported no serious injuries on either side.

The demonstrators were clearly shocked by the size of the police
response, which was in stark contrast to the situation a few weeks ago
during the Helsinki Festival Night of the Arts, when a couple of
hundred youths and graffiti enthusiasts had surprised police
completely.

This time the police remained composed and did not respond to
provocation from the demonstrators, though there will be many who
argue that the massive response was of itself a provocative act.

At a press conference on Sunday morning, police officials reported
that slightly more than 100 people had been held overnight for
questioning. Most are Finnish, with one or two foreigners among their
number.
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