Estonia's far-right junior govt party holds torchlight march


Tallinn (AFP)

Thousands of supporters of Estonia's far-right populist EKRE party, a junior partner in the governing coalition, held a torchlight march marking independence day in the capital Tallinn on Monday.

Marchers carried tiki torches, blue, black and white Estonian flags and the "Flag of Odin" representing a group with links to neo-Nazis that was founded in nearby Finland in 2015 in response to the migrant crisis that hit Europe that year.

Mart Helme, the controversial leader and founder of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE), who is also Estonia's interior minister, led the march.

Known for its populist rhetoric and anti-migrant stance, the eurosceptic EKRE joined the governing coalition after winning almost 18 percent of the vote in an election last March.

Helme stirred outrage at home and abroad in December after he labelled Finland's Social Democratic prime minister Sanna Marina "shop girl" and accused her government of trying to destroy the country.

EKRE supporters shun Estonia's large Russian minority, which accounts for around a quarter of the Baltic eurozone state's population of 1.3 million.

Wary of neighbouring Russia, the EKRE backs Estonia's NATO membership.

Estonia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union during World War II and remained under Moscow's thumb until independence in 1991.