Helsinki (AFP) - Over ten thousand people rallied in Helsinki Tuesday to support multiculturalism and protest recent controversial statements by a populist legislator, police said.
"My conservative estimate is that there are well over 10,000 people now, and more keep coming all the time. Thus far everything has gone peacefully," chief officer Tuomo Tuohimaa of Helsinki police told AFP.
The rapidly organised protest came after a parliamentarian from the populist Finns Party, Olli Immonen, launched a Facebook campaign last weekend call for a "fight against the nightmare of multiculturalism."
The Finns Party is one of the three parties in the current coalition governing the country.
Several top politicians, including the prime minister and the president, expressed support for the rally dubbed "We have a dream."
"I wish to remind that the Finnish way of life has always encompassed giving room for diversity and different customs," Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement read to the crowd at the event.
Prime Minister Juha Sipila also issued a statement congratulating people "campaigning for a multicultural Finland," and adding "people of foreign origin have significantly enriched our culture and business life."
Several top artists performed at the Helsinki event, while similar but smaller demonstrations took place in Tampere and other towns in Finland.
Calls for Immonen to resign from parliament arose over the weekend, but Finns Party leader Timo Soini said the matter will be brought up before his parliamentary group after the vacation period.
"This is not good for the party's reputation," Soini admitted in an interview with the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat, after initially refusing to comment on the incident.
The party chair said he believed that the timing of Immonen's statement was a coincidence in coming two days after the anniversary of Norway's Utoya massacre. On July 22, 2011 far-right militant Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people he reviled for allegedly embracing multiculturalism.
His appeal was not the first time Immonen sparked controversy, after he posed with members of a neo-Nazi group in June.
The Finns Party was long known for its anti-immigration stance that helped it gain a foothold among voters. In recent years, however, it has shifted the focus of its message to euroscepticism.