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by Euro Reporter
2011-01-02 10:03:28
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Intolerance worries President Halonen

In the President’s annual televised New Year’s speech, Tarja Halonen said that extreme views were on the rise in Finland and abroad, but that intolerance did not solve any problems in today's highly interdependent Europe. Although democracy means that decisions are made by the majority, they must also respect and protect the rights of minorities, the President said.

Halonen pointed out that European Union countries were so closely integrated that what happened in one country was bound to have ramifications in the others. As well as in economic matters, this also held true when it came to human rights and their violations. International agreements were not enough to ensure that such principles were upheld; the member states as well as their citizens must also take responsibility themselves.  Echoing recent polls, Halonen saw Finland’s neutrality in military alliances and good relations with neighbouring countries as fundamental factors contributing to national security.

Halonen praised countries such as Sweden, Austria, Ireland and Malta, who had abstained from full NATO membership while still participating in its peacekeeping operations. Halonen claimed that Finland had completed its peacekeeping mission in Kosovo successfully. However, operations in Afghanistan were proving more challenging, as international peacekeeping forces were set to withdraw by 2014. Underlining the importance of relations with Finland’s neighbours, Halonen said she had done her utmost to bring about closer and more active ties with all neighbouring countries. The President assured that Finland now had excellent relations with all its neighbours. In a recurring theme of her New Year's speeches, Halonen also defended the Finnish welfare state, bringing up the widening gap between the rich and poor and the availability of basic services.


Finland to start granting asylum to Baghdad residents again

The Supreme Administrative Court handed down a decision on Thursday to reverse the expulsion orders of 17 Iraqi asylum seekers. The applicants were granted residence permits and were allowed to stay in Finland. The Finnish Immigration Service felt that they should have been sent back to their home region.

Thursday’s rulings will affect the line taken by the Immigration Service in future cases, says Esko Repo, head of the asylum unit of the Immigration Service. “In practice, we will no longer send people back to the Baghdad region”, Repo says. From May 2009, the Immigration Service has taken the view that most of Iraq, including the capital Baghdad, is so safe that those arriving from the area are not in need of international protection on the basis of a general lack of security in the area that they come from. The new arrivals have been sent back unless there is a very specific reason why they should be granted asylum or a residence permit.

The Supreme Administrative Court found, contrary to the view taken by the Immigration Service, that the asylum seekers from Central Iraq face the danger of becoming victims of arbitrary violence. “We gave the asylum unit special instructions immediately after the ruling”, Repo says. Also on Thursday, the court rejected applications by 32 asylum seekers from the north of Iraq. The Supreme Administrative Court agreed with the view of the Immigration Service that none of the Iraqis from the autonomous Kurdish area were in need of international protection.


Huge Helsinki crystal meth haul

Finland’s largest ever haul of amphetamines has been intercepted by drugs squad and customs officials in Helsinki. A 20kg batch of methamphetamine, known commonly as crystal meth, has been seized in a forest area near the east of the capital. The police, who say this particularly dangerous substance is increasingly being sold for recreational use in Finland, say at least 10 people are suspected of aggravated drug offences. Some of this group, mainly made up of people from Finland or Lithuania, are currently being held in custody.

The haul is believed to have a street value of around EUR 500,000 but it is thought that several kilos of the batch have already been sold on. Police are also concerned after investigations suggested that supply far outstrips the demand for the drug. According to Helsinki Drug Squad Chief Petri Rainala, users of so-called “designer drugs” often wrongly believe that they can manage their use of the highly addictive drug. “The recreational use of such substances has been beyond the control of many for a long time,” he said.

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