December 16, 2019 / 5:18 PM / 2 months ago

Estonia apologizes after minister taunts Finnish PM as 'sales girl'

HELSINKI/TALLINN (Reuters) - Estonia apologized to Finland on Monday after Estonia’s interior minister mocked Finland’s new prime minister — the world’s youngest-serving government leader — as “a sales girl” and questioned her ability to run the Nordic country.

FILE PHOTO: Estonia's Interior Minister Mart Helme of far-right EKRE Party speaks to media after the swearing-in of the incoming coalition government in Tallinn, Estonia April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

Mart Helme, 70, Estonian interior minister and leader of the populist far-right party Ekre, on Sunday ridiculed Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34, and her government, in which four out of five coalition leaders are women under 35.

“Now we see how one sales girl has become a prime minister and how some other street activists and non-educated people have also joined the cabinet,” Helme said on his party’s radio talk show.

His comments prompted the opposition to call for his resignation, while Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid asked Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto to pass on her apologies to Marin and her government.

Social Democrat Marin, who has spoken about growing up in a disadvantaged family, worked as a cashier before studying at university and embarking on a political career.

“I’m extremely proud of Finland. Here a poor family’s child can educate themselves and achieve their goals in life. A cashier can become even a prime minister,” Marin wrote on Twitter.

Helme, a former Estonian ambassador to Russia, is known for outspoken statements that regularly embarrass Prime Minister Juri Ratas and his Center Party, Ekre’s coalition partner.

Ekre was accepted for the first time into a government coalition in April, after Ratas lost parliamentary elections but clinched a deal with Ekre to stay in power.

Estonian opposition leader Kaja Kallas said on Monday the opposition would organize a no-confidence vote in parliament if Helme does not resign after his comments about Finland’s new leaders. Previous such attempts have failed.

“The interior minister has offended the Finnish government and personally attacked the newly-appointed Finnish prime minister,” she said in a statement.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Tarmo Virki, Editing by William Maclean

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