INTERNATIONAL

I hope I can make a difference: Miss World

LONDON DEC. 7. With a gleaming smile and a graceful bow, Miss Turkey, Azra Akin, was crowned Miss World on Saturday, bringing to a close an international pageant that has been dogged by violence and controversy.

Ms. Akin stood proudly to attention while her national anthem was played, after she accepted the glittering tiara and a �100,000 ($156,000) prize from last year's winner, Nigeria's Agbani Darego.

``I hope I will represent the women of the world in a good way,'' Ms. Akin told reporters as she sat on her throne.

``I am very honoured to be Miss World,'' she said, wearing her new Miss World sash over a flamboyant red dress. ``I think it is good for a woman to have this position, and I hope I can make a difference.''

Ms. Akin, who turns 21 on Sunday, was raised by her Turkish parents in the Netherlands. She plays the flute and ballet and belly dancing are her passions.

Miss Colombia, Natalia Peralta, was declared runner-up, while Miss Peru, Marina Mora Montero, finished third at the ceremony, attended by 2,000 people at Alexandra Palace in north London.

Ninety-two contestants from around the world took part in the show, which was hastily shunted to London after riots forced it out of Nigeria last month.

The pageant's motto is ``beauty with a purpose,'' and among this year's contestants were lawyers, businesswomen, architects and a doctor.

Unlike its heyday in the 1970s, this year's beauty queens glided along the catwalk in evening gowns rather than swim wear — part of an effort to shed the show's sexist and outdated image.

But swimwear was not entirely absent. As the girls strutted across the elaborate stage, footage of them shot beside a Nigerian waterfall was flashed across giant screens.

Despite its 11th hour relocation, the 52nd pageant was a slick and glitzy affair, watched by a sell-out audience.

Organisers say the show was telecast in 137 countries to a global audience of more than two billion.

In Britain, however, where the pageant is widely seen as a quaint, kitsch spectacle, no television channel agreed to telecast it.

The rioting that left more than 200 people dead in Nigeria was barely mentioned during the upbeat show.

``Our thoughts go out to the families that suffered,'' said Sean Kanan, an actor from the U.S. soap `The Bold and The Beautiful', who co-hosted the event.

``Of course, I was shocked by what happened in Nigeria. I hope people in the world will be more respectful to each other,'' said Ms. Akin, the new Miss World.

In Nigeria, viewers tuned in with a mixture of regret and relief, with most agreeing that the pageant had to be moved from their country to avoid further bloodshed.

Amina Lawal, the Nigerian woman sentenced to death by an Islamic court for adultery, gained a tribute at the pageant. A statement read out on behalf of the contestants remembered ``all humans across the world who are threatened and abused.''

Miss World is used to controversy. Feminists flour-bombed the 1970 event, hosted by Bob Hope at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

In 1996, when the finals were held in Bangalore, police fired teargas and rubber bullets at rock-throwing protesters, and one man committed suicide.

But this year's extravaganza has been beset by problems from the outset. First, a number of contestants boycotted the competition after Lawal was condemned to death for having a child outside marriage. The Nigerian Government promised the sentence would not be carried out, and organiser, Julia Morley, pressed ahead.

Then violence erupted when a Nigerian journalist wrote a controversial article. Critics insisted that the show must be abandoned.

``These girls will be wearing swimwear dripping with blood,'' British writer, Muriel Gray, said.

Morley, whose late husband Eric launched Miss World in 1951, has remained adamant that the pageant was not responsible for the rioting.

``We had nothing to do with the violence, so it is quite ludicrous to suggest we are being insensitive by continuing with the competition,'' she said.

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