HELSINKI (AP) — The new interior minister of Estonia on Thursday called the country’s first female president an “emotionally heated woman” for walking out during the swearing-in of a Cabinet minister accused of domestic violence.
Mart Helme made the sexist remark at a news conference where he also accused Estonian news outlets of applying a double standard in covering abuse allegations against the now-former minister from his far-right party.
President Kersti Kaljulaid, the first woman to serve as the Baltic country’s head of state, left a Monday swearing-in ceremony for a new three-party government when it was time for the appointee at issue to take the oath of office.
Marti Kuusik was sworn in as technology and foreign trade minister along with the rest of Prime Minister Juri Ratas’ Cabinet after news reports featured the domestic violence allegations.
Police opened an investigation to review the allegations hours later. Kuusik, a member of Helme’s Estonian Conservative People’s Party, resigned the next day, saying the probe was based on “slander” and “a terrifying media attack” against him.
Helme called the reporting “an unconstitutional witch hunt.” He also made clear his dim view of the president’s decision to walk out during the ceremony and return to her seat when it was the next minister’s turn.
“An emotionally heated woman can afford to do that,” Helme told reporters. “But Kersti Kaljulaid is not simply a woman, but the president of the republic.”
“She reads one article, becomes so emotionally upset as a woman that she makes a decision right away,” he added.
Kaljulaid, who has been president since October 2016, did not respond Thursday to Helme’s comments.
She attended the Cabinet ceremony wearing a sweater printed with “Sona on vaba,” which is Estonian for “Speech is free.”
Helme and his son, newly appointed Finance Minister Martin Helme, have accused the news media before of displaying a negative bias toward the Estonian Conservative People’s Party, or ERKE.
The party has advocated abolishing legal recognition for same-sex civil unions, demanded changes to the abortion law and fiercely opposed European Union quotas for taking in asylum-seekers.
Photographs of the two flashing the OK hand sign at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony have received attention from other politicians. The use of the familiar gesture by some extreme-right activists and white supremacists has given it an alternative meaning.
Mart Helme hasn’t responded to questions about his and his son’s hand motions.
EKRE entered Estonia’s parliament in 2015. It emerged from the country’s March 3 election with 17.8% of the vote to become the third-largest party in the national legislature. A party member is the current parliament speaker.
The party’s role in governing expanded Thursday with Mart Helme’s appointment as first deputy prime minister, a position that includes leading the Cabinet during the prime minister’s absence.
Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.