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Estonia apologizes after official calls new Finnish leader a "sales girl"

BELGIUM-EU-SUMMIT-DIPLOMACY-POLITICS
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin Getty

Estonia is apologizing after one of its government ministers called the newly elected leader of Finland, Sanna Marin, a "sales girl." The remarks were made by Mart Helme, Estonia's interior minister and leader of the country's far-right Estonian Conservative People's Party.

While talking on a radio show, 70-year-old Helme was criticizing the Finnish government when he turned on the 34-year-old Marin, the youngest prime minister in the world. "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 Sunday, according to Finnish state broadcaster YLE.

Marin, who was elected in last week, leads a center-left coalition with four other parties, all female-led. According to the BBC, she worked as a sales assistant before going to university and embarking on a political career. She was also the first person in her family to finish high school and attend university. She responded to Helme on Twitter.

"I am extremely proud of Finland," she wrote. "Here, a child from a poor family can get educated and achieve many things in their lives. A cashier can become Prime Minister, for instance. Finland would not survive without its workers."

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

Helme later apologized and said his remarks were misunderstood, the BBC reported. He claims he had intended to "acknowledge that it is possible to work oneself up from a low social level also into top politics."

It's not the first time Helme has gotten in trouble for his disparaging comments. He called Kaljulaid, the first female president of Estonia, an "emotionally heated woman" for walking out during the swearing-in of a Cabinet minister accused of domestic violence. In another instance, he and his son, also a government-appointed minister, publicly flashed the "OK" hand gesture — a hand signal that's been co-opted by white supremacists.

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