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Finland kicks off celebrations for 100 years of independence

Associated Press logo Associated Press 31/12/2016 By JARI TANNER, Associated Press

HELSINKI — A children's event on Saturday at the National Opera kicked off a year of festivities in Finland to celebrate 100 years of independence from Russia.

Celebrations will culminate Dec. 6, the day Finnish Parliament declared independence in 1917.

Saturday's events included a concert paired with New Year's Eve fireworks over Helsinki, the capital. Finland's Foreign Ministry lit up in the winter darkness by illuminating its facade in the Finnish flag's blue and white colors.

Throughout 2017 there will be hundreds of events in this Nordic nation of 5.5 million — from films, dance parties and environment-related events to concerts and activities linked to Finland's renowned sauna tradition.

The government has earmarked 19 million euros (USD20 million) for the celebrations, including a new national park — the nation's 40th — that will be opened in June, highlighting Finns' affinity to nature. Finland also claims it will become the first country in the world to have an official flag day for its environment on Aug. 26 — also as part of the centennial festivities.

Nordic royals and political leaders are expected to gather in Helsinki to celebrate the centenary in June.

After 700 years of Swedish rule, the area known as Finland served as a battlefield for Russian-Swedish conflicts, and it fell into Russian hands in 1809. However, as an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire, it was allowed to develop politically, eventually leading to independence in the turmoil surrounding the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia. President Vladimir Putin on Friday congratulated Finland for the country's centenary in a phone conversation with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. Also the U.S. President-elect Donald Trump extended his wishes to Finns earlier December.

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