By ROBERT MACKEY
Dozens of Finnish nationalists, including a man dressed like a member of the Ku Klux Klan, hurled rocks and fireworks late on Thursday at a bus carrying migrants seeking asylum to temporary housing in Finland, the state broadcaster YLE reported.
Reporters in Lahti, about 60 miles north of the capital, Helsinki, recorded video of the bus — which carried men, women and children from Iraq — being pelted with the kind of smoke bombs often used by fans at soccer matches as it arrived at a former army barracks in the Hennala district in southern Finland.
[Video: Video from Finland’s ISTV of a bus carrying Iraqis seeking asylum in Finland being pelted with rocks and fireworks on Thursday. Watch on YouTube.]
Video from Finland’s ISTV of a bus carrying Iraqis seeking asylum in Finland being pelted with rocks and fireworks on Thursday.
Antti Sepponen/ISTV, via YouTube
Journalists at the barracks noted that the first migrants off the bus were families with young children.
The words “Go home” were also scrawled on the pavement outside the barracks.
Before the bus arrived, the crowd of about three dozen protesters also threw rocks at Finnish Red Cross volunteers waiting to welcome the asylum seekers.
In another part of Finland, the police arrested a man for throwing a Molotov cocktail at an emergency shelter for migrants. No injuries were reported and the fire was extinguished.
Despite ideological differences, Prime Minister Juha Sipila, Finance Minister Alexander Stubb and Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who lead Finland’s three largest parties, urged their supporters to accept that “Finland is an international, open and tolerant country where the majority accept migrants.”
Images of the faux Klansman, carrying Finland’s flag in one hand and a megaphone in the other, prompted a wave of outrage from Finns on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
Several commenters on social media reworked the image into pointed memes. One blogger used the man in the white sheet as a stand-in for Mr. Soini, whose populist party, the second largest in Finland’s Parliament, includes members opposed to immigration.
“There is nothing good about this picture,” Mr. Soini told YLE. “The Ku Klux Klan is a racist and misanthropic organization. Linking the Finnish flag with it is disgusting.”
The attack on the bus was also condemned by Lahti’s city council leaders. “Open democracy tolerates opposing opinions and leaves no place for hate speech, vandalism, provocation or harassment,” they wrote in a statement shared on social networks.
Nearly 15,000 migrants, mostly from Iraq, have arrived in Finland this year, according to statistics posted online on Friday by Mika Niikko, a member of Parliament from Mr. Soini’s nationalist True Finns party.
Mr. Niikko, who has warned about “the Islamization of Europe,” condemned the government’s decision last week to welcome another 2,400 asylum-seekers, calling it, “a Christmas gift for human traffickers and refugees.”
Two weeks ago, Finns who take the opposite view of migration staged an open-air festival in Helsinki, under the banner #SuomiSaysWelcome, using the Finnish word for Finland.
Finland’s national police commissioner, Seppo Kolehmainen, said in a statement that his force “unequivocally condemns the racist acts,” and appealed for “patience and understanding” to allow time for his officers to investigate the actions of the protesters and the legitimacy of the asylum claims by the migrants.
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(via NY Times)