HELSINKI – Security guards stopped a knife-wielding man on Monday from approaching Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen while he was campaigning for municipal elections, government officials said. Police said he did not attempt to attack the Conservative leader, who was unhurt.
"The man was stopped before he reached the prime minister. He didn't have time to stab him," Kari Mokko, a government spokesman told The Associated Press. "Katainen will continue his duties as normal."
The afternoon incident occurred in the southwestern city of Turku, where Katainen was campaigning ahead of Sunday's municipal elections.
Turku police said the man, in his 30s, was in a crowd of people in the city center when he "suddenly wielded a knife."
"The man did not behave aggressively or directly threaten the prime minister or others nearby," a police statement said. "He was quickly apprehended by police and is being held in custody."
Mokko and other officials could not give any details on the suspect.
Robert Seger, a Finnish newspaper photographer who witnessed the incident, said the man dropped to his knees in front of Katainen, holding a knife, but didn't attack him.
"He was trying to get Katainen's attention," Seger told AP.
Shortly before the incident, the man had shaken hands with Katainen and introduced himself to the prime minister, Seger said.
"I didn't hear his name. But the man said he was in lots of trouble," Seger said. "Then he just dropped down on his knees and suddenly I saw a knife in his hand ... but he lowered it on the ground."
He said security guards quickly grabbed the man and pulled him away from Katainen, who leads a coalition government after winning national elections last year.
The government's security chief Timo Harkonen told Finnish broadcaster YLE that the prime minister's security contingent had closely monitored the incident and "prevented it from becoming a dangerous situation."
Politicians in the Nordic countries often mingle with voters without stringent security measures, despite a couple of high-profile attacks against government officials and political parties in recent decades.
In Sweden, Prime Minister Olof Palme was gunned down on a Stockholm street in 1986 and Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was fatally stabbed in a shopping center nine years ago. Both were without security guards.
Last year, a right-wing extremist set off a car bomb just outside the Norwegian government's headquarters in Oslo, killing eight and injuring hundreds. He then massacred 69 people — most of them teenagers — in a shooting rampage at the summer camp of a left-wing youth group.
Associated Press writer Jari Tanner contributed to this report from Tallinn, Estonia.