Reuters International

A policeman speaks to a member of anti-immigrant "Soldiers of Odin" in Drammen, February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix

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HELSINKI (Reuters) - A Finnish court handed down a suspended sentence of 18 months on Wednesday to one of the founders of the anti-immigrant 'Soldiers of Odin' group for assaulting a man last June.

The Soldiers of Odin, founded late last year by a group of young men in the northern Finnish town of Kemi, have patrolled the streets of cities in Finland and other Nordic and Baltic countries, saying they want to protect locals from immigrants.

Mika Ranta, 29, was sentenced for aggravated assault on one man and assault on a woman who tried to stop the attack, both of them Finns. He declined to comment on the sentence.

The Soldiers of Odin, named after the king of the gods in Norse mythology, have triggered fears of a rise in vigilante movements in the Nordic countries after 250,000 asylum seekers moved into the region over the last year.

Members of the group have said they want to serve as eyes and ears for the police who they say are struggling to fulfil their duties.

The group has expanded from Finland to its neighbouring Nordic and Baltic countries, and its Facebook page says it has chapters also in at least 10 countries, including the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

In Finland, no clashes have been reported between the Soldiers of Odin patrols and immigrants, but police have said they are keeping a close eye on the group.

(Reporting by Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Jussi Rosendahl and Tom Heneghan)

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