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Finland government minister apologises for 'neo-Nazi' rally speech

FILE: Finnish Economy Minister Vilhelm Junnila speaks at a rally organised by a far-right group in Turku, 2019
FILE: Finnish Economy Minister Vilhelm Junnila speaks at a rally organised by a far-right group in Turku, 2019 Copyright Varis
Copyright Varis
By David Mac Dougall
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Finns Party MP Vilhelm Junnila says he wouldn't participate again in an event organised by the now-banned Nordic Resistance Movement militia.

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Finland's Minister for Economic Affairs has apologised for appearing at a rally organised by neo-Nazi groups; apologised too for making a joke about the number '88' which can mean 'Heil Hitler' to right-wing extremists, and says that he condemns the Holocaust. 

Vilhelm Junnila, from the far-right Finns Party, was only sworn-in to his new role on Tuesday. 

A Euronews story the same day highlighted that Junnila was the featured speaker at an event in the western city of Turku which ostensibly was supposed to commemorate a Muslim terrorist attack two years previously -- which left two people dead and eight others wounded in a stabbing rampage.

However, the rally was arranged by an organisation called the Coalition of Nationalists, an umbrella group formed in 2017 for those on the far-right including the Finns Party, the now-banned Nordic Resistance Movement militia, and the Soldiers of Odin vigilante movement.

Already in spring that same year, the Coalition of Nationalists had hit the headlines in Finland after they were exposed for organising firearms training at a camp in the forest, where the targets were faces of Finnish government ministers.

The event where Junnila spoke was a "who's who of neo-Nazis in Finland", according to one researcher, and members of these various shadowy extreme right-wing organisations can be seen in photographs standing behind Junnila while he gave a short speech, albeit on the opposite riverbank. 

"There was a crowd of people there. Delivered a speech at the event. It was an event to honor the memory of the victims of the attack, not a demonstration or political event. The video recording of the event is still available online," says Junnila in a Thursday Facebook post.

"I would no longer participate in such an event if it was organised," he said, describing the Nordic Resistance Movement as "aggressive and deliberately seeking conflict." 

The number '88'

Minister Junnila also apologised for joking about the number 88, which was randomly assigned by the Finnish Election Commission as his candidate number in the 2019 parliamentary elections. 

For neo-Nazis, 88 is coded shorthand for Heil Hitler, as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. 

He described his actions as "stupid and childish", and said "I have done something wrong and I am sorry for my actions." 

The politician posted another update to Facebook on Thursday evening saying "I hope everyone is clear that I condemn the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and all anti-Semitic acts strongly and defiantly."

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