Thousands rally against racism and fascism in Helsinki

Around 15,000 people marched in central Helsinki to protest against racism and violent right-wing extremism days after a man was killed in an alleged neo-Nazi attack.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Participants demonstrate against racism and fascism in Helsinki, Finland on September 24, 2016.

Around 15,000 people took to the streets in Finland’s capital Helsinki on Saturday to protest against racism and right-wing extremism.

The protest, named "Stop This Now," was organised by a Facebook group in the wake of the killing of 28-year-old Jimi Karttunen.

Karttunen was walking past an anti-immigration protest held in Helsinki on September 10 when he stopped to spit in the direction of the protesters.

A well-known neo-Nazi leader, Jesse Torniainen, allegedly kicked him in the chest, knocking him to the ground where he struck his head. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage a week after the incident.

Torniainen, a central figure in the far-right Finnish Resistance Movement, has now been taken into in custody.

He faces charges of assault and aggravated involuntary manslaughter, but denies any responsibility for Karttunen's death.

The creator of the Facebook group that called Saturday’s demonstration said a "culture of silence... has nurtured the growth of fascism and racism."

"Violent right-wing extremism has grown stronger and one brave soul that dared to challenge it, has paid the price with his life," the group wrote on Facebook.

Politically motivated violence is rare in Finland. However, far-right groups have become more active after more than 30,000 migrants sought asylum in the Nordic country in 2015.

Volunteer street patrols calling themselves the Soldiers of Odin, with links to neo-Nazis, appeared on the streets of several Finnish towns last year.

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila, who also joined the rally, said his government will soon present new measures to tackle the problem.

"People are coming out for the right reason, because the rise of violent extremism is a concern to the large majority of Finns," Sipila told Finnish radio YLE.