Estonian minister Mart Helme survives confidence vote after calling Finnish PM 'shop girl'

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By Caroline Mortimer  & AP
Mart Helme narrowly won a vote of no confidence
Mart Helme narrowly won a vote of no confidence   -  Copyright  AFP

Estonia's interior minister has survived a vote of confidence triggered by remarks in which he mocked Finland's new prime minister, Sanna Marin, as a 'shop girl'.

Mart Helem, 70, provoked outrage with his comments, on a talk radio show, about 34-year-old Marin's time working in a department store before entering politics.

He said her left-wing Social Democratic Party was out to “liquidate” the country with its policies.

Marin last week became the world's youngest sitting prime minister and Finland's third female government leader.

Read more: Could right-wing populism push integrated Estonia back towards Russia?

Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid on Monday telephoned her Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, offering a public apology on behalf of Estonia and Helme to Marin and her government.

Helme himself apologized only much later Monday, blaming media for overplaying his comments.

But the move was not enough for opposition parties in Estonia’s 101-seat Riigikogu who called for his dismissal and led to the near collapse of Prime Minister Juri Ratas’ three-party coalition government.

The parliament voted 44 to 42 to remove Helme from his post but the motion failed because it required 51 votes to pass.

Helme is widely known in Estonia for his political gaffes and sexist comments on women, including personal attacks on Kaljulaid, Estonia's first female president, whom he called earlier this year “an emotionally heated woman.”