Estonia apologizes after minister calls Finland’s new leader Sanna Marin a ‘sales girl’

The leader of Estonia’s populist far-right party EKRE, Mart Helme, questioned the ability of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34, to run her country on Sunday.

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“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 Sunday, according to Estonian public broadcaster ERR.

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Marin — who leads Finland’s Social Democratic party — has spoken about her life growing up in a disadvantaged family and working as a cashier, before she studied at university.

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She became the world’s youngest sitting prime minister earlier in December after replacing the nation’s former leader, Antti Rinne. Five of Finland’s major parties in parliament are all led by women, four of whom are in their 30s.

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“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 tweeted.

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Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid apologized for Helme’s comments during a phone call with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on Monday, according to a statement on the Finnish president’s website.

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Helme on Monday justified his statement by saying: “That specific sentence about the Finnish prime minister, which you have interpreted as demeaning, I have actually interpreted as complimentary — as recognition that someone can work their way up from a low social standing to the peak of politics,” according to ERR.

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A press officer at the Finnish president’s office told CNN that Kaljulaid was considering replacing the interior minister.

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“President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid had a discussion with the prime minister of Estonia, Jüri Ratas, on Sunday, during which Madam President suggested that the minister of interior should be replaced,” Mailin Aasmäe told CNN.

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On Tuesday, Helme survived a vote of no-confidence in the Estonian parliament, which was called because of his comments.

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The Estonian interior ministry referred CNN to Helme’s party, EKRE. The party has not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment.

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According to Reuters, Helme formerly worked as Estonia’s ambassador to Russia and is known for his outspoken comments.

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