* Euro-sceptic party leader tones down criticism of bailout
* Finland's position is key because of its voting right
By Jussi Rosendahl
HELSINKI, April 30 The head of the eurosceptic True Finns said on Saturday that helping Portugal could be in Finland's best interest, the strongest sign yet that the party could tone down its opposition to EU bailout plans.
Disagreement among Finland's three biggest parties over the bailout package has raised concerns that a new government could disrupt EU plans to help Portugal.
Asked in an interview with public broadcaster YLE whether the True Finns could view aid to Portugal as the best option for Finland, party leader Timo Soini said:
"That is possible too. But keeping the Finnish people's autonomy, that is the core."
Finland's previously obscure True Finns party emerged as the third-biggest party in an election this month, after a campaign focused on criticising aid to indebted governments.
Finland's parliament, unlike others in the euro zone, has the right to vote on EU requests for bailout funds. Financial markets are concerned the True Finns' increased power and likely participation in a coalition government may hamper bailout plans.
Portugal this month became the third euro zone country to seek foreign aid, following Greece and Ireland.
Talks to form a coalition are set to start next week, with the focus on whether the leading National Coalition Party, the second-largest Social Democrats and True Finns can agree on Portugal aid. An early agreement is crucial as European finance minister discuss Portugal aid in mid-May.
Jyrki Katainen, head of the National Coalition and prime minister-in-waiting, said on Friday Finland has only a few days to decide whether to back aid for Portugal. His party has said the new government must support EU plans. [ID:nLDE73S1PE]
Soini acknowledged the risk of Portugal falling into insolvency.
"That danger exists, as well as for Greece and others. This cannot be taken lightly. We need to look carefully at what is possible and what is not," he said, adding that he was not afraid of being accused of backpedalling on his pre-election stance against EU policies.
"In politics, I'm not afraid of anything," he said.
But he also reiterated his view that Finland's position on bailouts must change with a new government.
Asked whether the True Finns party still opposes Portugal aid, increasing the capacity of the temporary bailout fund and the launch of a permanent stability mechanism, he replied:
"That is the issue which is being negotiated now, whether it is possible for the pre-election stance to be changed... But we cannot approve it as it was then."
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