The president of Estonia has apologised after her country’s interior minister referred to Finland’s new prime minister as a “sales girl”.
Kersti Kaljulaid said the comments made by 70-year-old Mart Helme were “embarrassing”, after he criticised the newly-appointed youngest leader in the world on his party’s radio talk show.
Sanna Marin, 34, was named prime minister last week, and the news has largely been greeted with positive reactions around the world.
But Mr Helme, the leader of populist far-right party Ekre, made a condescending reference to Ms Marin’s stint as a department store cashier early in her career.
He said: “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.”
The mocking remarks led the opposition Reform Party to call a vote of confidence in the minister, as well as mounting pressure for prime minister Juri Ratas to step in and fire him.
Estonia’s 101-seat parliament voted in favour of removing Mr Helme on Tuesday by 44 to 42, but the motion failed to pass because it did not reach an absolute majority of 51.
Ms Kaljulaid phoned her Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto to offer a public apology on behalf of the country and her government, BBC News reported.
She said: “I also admitted to him how embarrassed I am for all this.”
Mr Helme has also apologised, but blamed the media for misunderstanding his comments.
He said: “If someone has misunderstood it ... then indeed I want to say that I am offering my apology to the prime minister of Finland.”
Ms Kaljulaid is no stranger to Mr Helme’s sexist comments, having been on the receiving end of them when she became the country’s first female president.
He called her “an emotionally heated woman” earlier this year.
Estonia’s finance minister and deputy chair of Ekre, Martin Helme, defended the interior minister’s remarks, telling local reporters that they should have been interpreted as “praise”.
“As to what he said – that a sales girl could become a prime minister. That’s a type of praise ... We live in an age where everyone likes to be offended but nothing there was offensive,” he said.
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