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SMS scandal rocks Finnish parliament

world Updated: Apr 01, 2008 23:47 IST

AP
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Finland's foreign minister was ousted on Tuesday by his conservative party over a text message scandal involving an erotic dancer.

The scandal, which had been making headline news for weeks, had eroded trust in and respect for Ilkka Kanerva, said Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, chairman of the National Coalition Party, which holds the Foreign Ministry post in the coalition government. "The minister does not enjoy trust," Katainen told reporters. "It's a heavy decision. He's a friend and he's done his work well."

Katainen said he would propose Alexander Stubb, a European Parliament lawmaker, as the new foreign minister. He said he had discussed the matter with President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who was traveling abroad. The appointment was expected to be confirmed on Friday.

Kanerva, 60, initially denied reports in Hymy - a gossip magazine - that he had sent about 200 messages by mobile phone to the dancer, Johanna Tukiainen. But last week he apologised publicly, acknowledging he had sent some messages but insisting they were all work-related.

The 29-year-old dancer said Kanerva had, among other things, inquired about her underwear. On Tuesday, the Hymy monthly published some of the text messages allegedly sent by Kanerva to Tukiainen.

In the messages, Kanerva proposes meetings and dinner with Tukiainen and her sister, asks whether he would be allowed to touch her at a nightclub and discusses women's clothing. Kanerva, who held three minister posts in various governments in the 1990s, was chosen to be foreign minister last year by Katainen. In 2005, he was involved in a similar text message scandal when he was a deputy speaker of Parliament.

"He promised he would not repeat" such a scandal, Katainen said, "but he did not keep that promise." Although Kanerva apparently broke no laws and his longtime partner accepted his apology, there were widespread calls for his dismissal.

The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Kanerva was on sick leave and would not talk to the media. A day earlier, Kanerva told reporters he was "fit and well" and had no intention of resigning. Resignations or dismissals over personal matters are unusual in Finland, where politics and private lives have traditionally been kept well apart. But times appear to be changing. Vanhanen, who on Sunday reiterated his trust in Kanerva, saying the foreign minister's private life was his own affair, has guarded his own privacy vehemently. Last year, he sued his former girlfriend for revealing intimate details about their relationship in a book _ but lost.

In 2005, Vanhanen's predecessor and Finland's first and only female prime minister, Anneli Jaatteenmaki, resigned after only two months in office because she lied about leaking sensitive documents.