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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Colombia president on Big Brother
 Alvaro Uribe
President Uribe appeared as "a public service"
Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has appeared on his country's version of reality TV show Big Brother - to speak about his proposed austerity measures.

Mr Uribe's image emerged to contestants on their TV screens as he explained his plans to them and the huge audience watching at home.

The show's director said they had put him on as "a public service".

The president's austerity plan is going before a national referendum on 25 October.

Big Brother director Juan Esteban Sanpedro said: "The president has a very big job at this moment and that's to spread information about the referendum.

"We think that there can be a link between the president's proposal and the people at the Big Brother house in which they can help make Colombians aware of what the referendum is without taking sides, which is very important."

Non-stop dance

The referendum is seen by Wall Street as a key test of Mr Uribe's 13-month-old presidency, but polls have shown many Colombians do not understand the policies.

The Big Brother contestants were challenged to study the plan, making a change from their usual tasks of striptease competitions, making pizzas and non-stop dancing.

The austerity plan includes a tough question on a two-year public sector wage freeze. It would save 19.7 trillion pesos (about $7bn, or 4.2bn) over the next seven years.

Even with proposed savings, Colombia is forecasting to exceed IMF-agreed budget deficit limits in 2003 and 2004.

But the country's finance ministry says the International Monetary Fund has agreed to soften the targets.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"Opposition politician described the president's appearance... as a cynical manipulation"

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