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Conan O'Brien meets Finnish president

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HELSINKI, Finland — Conan O'Brien finally met his match.

The "Late Night" jokester, who ran a mock ad campaign endorsing the re-election of Finnish President Tarja Halonen — because of her strong resemblance to him, red hair and all — had a face-to-similar-face meeting with her Tuesday at the presidential palace in downtown Helsinki.

O'Brien handed the Nordic country's first female president a box of chocolates in the shape of a red heart as they posed for photographers before their 15-minute meeting. Halonen gave him Finnish troll dolls to take home.

Last year, O'Brien caused a political stir when, based on their resemblance, he endorsed the 62-year-old Halonen for a second six-year term — which she won last month. His mock ads not only backed Halonen but also attacked her opponents.

O'Brien, who had earlier jokingly demanded a six-hour audience, said he wasn't disappointed.

"Someone like me knows he's lucky to get 15 minutes," O'Brien said, adding that the meeting was "very, very nice."

"It's not every day I get to meet the president of a country," O'Brien said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

On his arrival Saturday, O'Brien quipped that he expected to be rewarded for endorsing Halonen with a Cabinet position as inspector of saunas, "mostly women's saunas," but the issue was not discussed in the meeting.

"I was hoping very much to get a Cabinet position because I very much need the money, but she has invited me to come and visit her with my family," O'Brien said.

On Saturday, some 2,000 fans waited hours in subfreezing temperatures to catch a glimpse of the quirky, self-deprecating TV host, whose show is unusually popular in this taciturn nation of 5 million on the northern fringe of Europe.

Finns are very aware of their image abroad, and when O'Brien poked fun at the small country, he was overwhelmed by cards and mail. Finns started appearing in the New York audience of his NBC show.

The program airs on a Finnish cable channel, with a few days delay, and every time he mentions Finland or Halonen, local media report it prominently.

The president's spokeswoman said Halonen had wanted to thank O'Brien for making Finland better known, and the two had agreed they "might, indeed, resemble each other."

"When O'Brien said he looked more like his mother than his father, the president sent her greetings," spokeswoman Maria Romantschuk said.

"I think she (Halonen) was pleased and quite relieved to hear that," O'Brien said.

O'Brien said his wife was not too happy about his Valentine's Day meeting with Tarja, calling her by her first name as many Finns do.

"She was so jealous, she said she would spend her Valentine's Day with President Bush," he quipped.

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