September 11, 2006

Anarchist demonstration corralled by huge police presence; over 100 held overnight

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.
Falun Gong most active protester during ASEM
Two women dressed as surgeons dig a red bundle out of the abdomen of a mannequin on an operating table. Next to them a man in a police uniform threatens to beat a handcuffed woman.

The organ theft and torture performance of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in front of Helsinki's main railway station may have been the most violent sight during Friday's demonstrations linked with the summit of the Europe Asia Meeting (ASEM), which officially begins on Sunday. Friday's demonstrations involved fewer than 100 people, and no disturbances were reported.


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