Estonia’s president apologized to Finland on Monday after Estonia’s interior minister mocked the Nordic nation’s new 34-year-old prime minister, calling her a “sales girl.”
During a radio interview on Sunday, 70-year-old Mart Helme, Estonian interior minister and leader of the populist far-right party Ekre, mocked Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and questioned her government, in which four out of five coalition leaders are women under 35.
Helme remarked that “a cashier” was now leading Estonia’s neighbour — an apparent reference to Marin’s past job working at a department store.
“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, but the motion did not pass on Tuesday.
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid apologized to Marin for Helme’s comments and said she was “embarrassed” by his remarks.
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In a statement, Kaljulaid said she called her Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinisto, and asked him to convey her apologies to Marin and her government, the BBC reported.
Marin has spoken out about her upbringing, including working as a cashier before studying at university and embarking on a political career.
On Sunday, she tweeted a response to the jab.
“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.
Last week, Marin became the world’s youngest sitting prime minister and the third woman to lead Finland’s government.
On Monday, Helme himself apologized for his comments and blamed the media for misunderstanding his words.
Helme is widely known in the Baltic country for political gaffes and sexist comments, including personal attacks on Kaljulaid. Earlier this year, he described Estonia’s first female president as “an emotionally heated woman.”
— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press
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