Riot police battle crowds throwing stones and lighting fires on May Day Eve
Street fighting at old railway storehouses in Helsinki
Traditional revelry on the night before the First of May celebrations in Helsinki took on a violent turn late Sunday night when a group of about 100 young people set a number of fires in the yard of Makasiinit - the old railway storehouses, which are to be partially demolished to make room for a large music centre. Police say that members of the crowd attempted to occupy the condemned buildings.
The rioters used various objects found in the area as fuel for the fires, including wooden cable spools. Some people in the crowd tried to stop the fire brigade from extinguishing out the fires.
Police detained 17 people taking part in the rioting. Some of those arrested could face charges ranging from vandalism to violently resisting an official.
Large numbers of police were called to the scene, including crowd control units wearing helmets. They confronted crowds of youngsters throwing stones and bottles. There were no serious injuries, although some of the police suffered a few minor bruises.
Mika Pöyry of the Helsinki Police said that many of those involved had taken part in a march of about 200 anarchists earlier in the evening from the Hotel Palace in the South Harbour to the Kamppi area. During the march some bottles were thrown at walls of buildings along Aleksanterinkatu.
At that time police did not interfere, even though shards of glass were falling on the streets.
At the railway storehouses the situation was not calmed down until after midnight, as fires that had been put out were lit again and again.
Police detained a number of young people.
Kari Tolvanen of the Helsinki police ascribed a variety of possible motives for the actions of those who were arrested.
"Some wanted to protect the storehouses, others perhaps wanted to destroy them, and most of them were just trying to have fun. A very small number of them wanted to fight with the police and firefighters", Tolvanen said in an interview with the Finnish News Agency STT.
The area was cordoned off, and police and the Helsinki Rescue Department also considered clearing the area of all people for fear that the fires would spread from the yard to the buildings.
Police say that members of the crowd used petrol bombs in lighting the fires. On Monday about ten unused petrol bombs were found in the area.
Earlier on Sunday, celebrations of the holiday were launched by the placing of a student cap on the head of the Havis Amanda statue at Market Square amid traditional revelry. Thousands of people wearing the white student caps crowded into the area.
On Monday, President Tarja Halonen and her husband, Dr. Pentti Arajärvi received the traditional First of May greetings at the Presidential Palace from the Student Union of the University of Helsinki.
Traditional May Day picnics were held in parks in various Finnish cities. Marches by trade unionists were held in Helsinki and other cities, and political speeches were held in different parts of the country.