Far-right Estonian cabinet minister quits after criticising Biden

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

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Estonia’s far right Interior Minister Mart Helme quit on Monday, while his son Martin survived a no-confidence vote to remain in government, after both men came under fire from coalition partners for criticising U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.

In a radio interview on Sunday, the elder Helme said he believed Biden and his son Hunter were corrupt. The younger Helme said Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election was rigged.

Estonia, a NATO member bordering Russia, prizes its alliance with the United States as its first line of defence.

Politicians from Prime Minister Juri Ratas’s ruling coalition lined up to denounce the remarks of the two Helmes, saying they could jeopardise Estonia’s security.

But they appear to have stopped short of expelling the party from the coalition, by withholding support for the no-confidence vote in Martin Helme.

The younger Helme succeeded his father this year as leader of their populist ERKE party. His father still serves as deputy party leader.

“This is but another baseless scandal geared at overthrowing the government,” the younger Helme said in parliament on Monday.

Ratas condemned the remarks by both ministers, as did Estonia’s president, Kersti Kaljulaid. Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu called the remarks “crazy”, while Defence Minister Juri Luik said they were “dangerous to the security of us all”.

U.S. President Donald Trump, beaten by Biden in the election last week, has accused Biden and his son Hunter of unethical business practices in China and Ukraine. No evidence has been verified to support those allegations, and Biden has called them false and discredited. Trump has also said Biden’s victory was rigged, while providing no evidence of significant fraud.

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Simon Johnson, Ed Osmond and Peter Graff