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Jussi Halla-aho, a member of the European Parliament and the Finns party, attends the party meeting in Helsinki, Finland, March 11, 2017. Picture taken March 11, 2017. LEHTIKUVA/Martti Kainulainen via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
HELSINKI (Reuters) - A front-runner in the race to lead Finland's second-biggest political party told national media on Tuesday that he would actively seek an exit from the euro zone as well as the European Union, if elected.
Jussi Halla-aho, a member of the European Parliament and an anti-immigration hardliner, is one of two front-runners to replace foreign minister Timo Soini who is stepping down as leader of the eurosceptic party in June.
"Political reasons for quitting, especially the euro, are very clear, and economical reasons are pretty clear too. I think this should be actively urged in the party," Halla-aho said in an interview with Finnish news agency STT.
Analysts say Halla-aho's nomination could bring down the country's three-party government and steer the party deeper into right-wing populism.
Halla-aho said he would likely run the party from the European Parliament and not take a minister seat, if the party were to keep its coalition seat following his nomination.
His main rival in the race, Sampo Terho, has more moderate views and last week said he would support a possible "Fixit" referendum if the idea gets wide backing in the party.
Formerly known as True Finns, the party has in recent years softened its tone and distanced itself from rising far-right parties across Europe - a choice that helped it enter the coalition government in 2015.
But that stance - which included public spending cuts and backing a Greek bailout - has angered some of its core voters and the party now ranks fifth in the polls with support of about 9 percent.
The centre-right government is committed to the euro, and according to a survey last July, 68 percent of polled citizens support EU membership with just as many opposing a referendum.
Last year, a petition demanding Finland break from the euro was signed by more than 53,000 people. The petition made it to parliament debate but was ditched by a parliament committee.
(Writing by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Julia Glover)