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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Nigeria seeks to calm Miss World row
Agbani Darego of Nigeria is crowned Miss World last year in South Africa.
Agbani Darego's victory made Nigeria this year's hosts
The Nigerian Government says it is totally opposed to the stoning of a woman found guilty of adultery.

It has also promised to guarantee the security of all those connected with the Miss World contest due to take place in Nigeria.

This comes as the organisers of the Miss World beauty pageant are coming under increasing pressure to change the venue for this year's contest, according to the BBC's Dan Isaacs in Lagos.

In a letter published on the Miss World website, Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dubem Onyia says " no woman has ever been punished in such a dastardly manner...and this will not be an exception".

Nigerian press release
Nigeria wants the competition to go ahead

Miss Switzerland has become the latest of a series of contestants to pull out of the contest, due to take place in the capital, Abuja, November, in protest at the death sentence imposed by an Islamic court in northern Nigeria.

The contestants from France, Belgium, Ivory Coast, Norway and Kenya had already withdrawn with seven other countries, including Germany, Finland, Togo and Poland considering a boycott.

But the majority of the 110 eligible contestants have yet to decide or announce whether or not they will take part.

Amina Lawal, 30, is due to be stoned to death after giving birth outside marriage. In August, her appeal was rejected by a Sharia court.


These sentences are barbaric and unacceptable

Genevieve de Fontenay, Miss France committee

The contest will be held in Nigeria this year after Nigerian Agbani Darego became the first black African woman to be crowned Miss World in 2001.

It is also under threat from militant Islamic groups in Nigeria, which call it a "parade of nudity" bound to promote promiscuity and HIV/Aids.

Platform

Holding the Miss world contest in Nigeria would without question be the biggest media event ever held here, Dan Isaacs says.

For a country desperate to improve its image abroad, to encourage tourism and foreign investment, it's a perfect opportunity to present the country in a positive way.

The Nigerian minister's statement says that the government "stands stoically by those essential virtues entrenched in the human rights doctrine" and recalls that the sentence is still to be judged by higher courts in Nigeria.

It adds that Nigeria is a federal country in which state laws and federal laws operate but "when the state laws impinge on the federal laws. The federal law usually supersedes".

Boycott

But the chorus of disapproval is growing among potential competitors.

"The Miss France committee is joining the protests against Nigeria, which condemns women to death for adultery. These sentences are barbaric and unacceptable," said Genevieve de Fontenay, head of the Miss France committee.

Amina Lawal
Amina Lawal: contestants who do attend may choose to speak out

"I have decided not to take part if Amina Lawal is not freed," Miss Belgium Ann van Elsen told Le Soir newspaper.

The European Union and the prime minister of New Zealand have also called for a boycott of the event.

However Miss Sweden, Sophia Hedmark, will be using the platform in Nigeria to protest against the harsh Sharia punishments.

''There is nothing to be gained by not going to Nigeria... but I plan to protest against the ruling in interviews with journalists," she said.

This is a policy backed by Jide Asumah, one of the organisers of Miss World in Nigeria.

"If they don't come they have no way of making their voice heard. By coming to Nigeria they will make their position known, which will have a better effect," he told the French news agency, AFP.

The Polish Miss World committee said it was concerned about the safety of its representative after the Islamic group, Jama'atul Muslimin, branded the contest ''an abomination'' and others threatened to disrupt it.

In his statement, Nigerian minister Dubem Onyia says: "The Nigerian Government therefore assures the organisers of the Miss World Pageant, the participants and visitors to the event that we...will guarantee the rights and security of everyone".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dan Isaacs reports from Lagos
"This leaves the pageant organisers with a tough decision"

Miss World row

Analysis

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BACKGROUND
See also:

06 Sep 02 | Africa
19 Nov 01 | Africa
19 Aug 02 | Africa
19 Aug 02 | African Debates
26 Mar 02 | Africa
22 Mar 02 | Africa
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