Finland's third largest party, True Finns, has demanded a ban on ritual circumcision of minors. In a debate held on September 26 at the Finnish parliament in Helsinki, Vesa-Matti Saarakkala, a lawmaker for True Finns, reiterated his calls in March to outlaw the practice in Finland.

Saarakkala, 28, said he would submit a bill proposing to criminalize ritual circumcision in boys younger than 15 years of age, according to the online edition of Yleisradio, Finland's national public broadcasting company.

"The Finnish constitution guarantees everyone the right to personal integrity," Saarakkala is quoted as saying. Saarakkala - a critic of what he called perceived integration problems among immigrants - also pointed out that female circumcision "is already considered assault" in Finland. The fact that circumcision in males is legal in Finland, he said, constitutes legal discrimination.

With 39 seats out of 200 in the lower house, the socialist-conservative True Finns is Finland's largest opposition party.

Jouko Jääskeläinen, lawmaker for the Christian Democrats, said in parliament that circumcision was a minor procedure and that research showed it was helpful in preventing diseases.

On September 30, an international conference of critics of ritual circumcision opened in Helsinki.

Gideon Bolotowsky of the Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland told JTA he did not foresee a ban on circumcision in Finland in the near future.

"Those trying to ban circumcision are hard pressed to present scientific evidence that circumcision in harmful," he said.

Bolotowsky added that the critics of circumcision in children "have had the rug pulled from under their feet" because of the publication in August of new research by the American Academy of Pediatrics which suggested that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against HIV. and that the health benefits outweighed the risks connected to the procedure.