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Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 11:09 GMT
Miss World beauties flee Nigeria violence
Some of the contestants preparing to leave Nigeria
Contestants: feeling "really miserable", organisers say
Beauty queens have arrived in London for this year's Miss World contest after the venue was hastily switched because of violent protests in Nigeria.

The group, which had been in Nigeria for about 10 days, travelled from the capital, Abuja, on a chartered Boeing 747.


I salute the courage of the contestants. They came all the way here despite the conspiracy of the international press

Nigerian Information Minister
The competition is scheduled to go ahead on 7 December.

Latest figures released by the Nigerian Red Cross on Sunday put the number of dead from four days of unrest in the northern city of Kaduna at 215 - more than doubling the previous estimate.

The organisation's president, Emmanuel Ijewere told the Associated Press news agency that 215 bodies had been counted on city streets and in mortuaries.

A tense calm was reported in Kaduna on Sunday.

Violence subsided on Saturday as soldiers enforced a night-time curfew. But the BBC's Dan Isaacs, reporting from the city, said there were still reports of disturbances in some districts.

The rioting began with a protest by Muslims in Kaduna last Wednesday over a newspaper article they saw as trivialising their objections to the contest. On Friday, the trouble spread to Abuja.

The Miss World contestants had attended preliminary events in mainly Christian, southern areas of Nigeria

'Miserable'

As the violence escalated, Miss Canada and Miss South Korea decided to pull out on Friday - before the change of venue was announced.

Evangelical Church of West Africa of Kaduna
Churches and mosques were attacked
Another contestant, Miss South Africa, who had initially boycotted the event in Nigeria, told newspapers she would not be going to London because of commitments in South Africa.

"Lots of trouble could have been avoided and now over 100 people have died in riots for no reason," 22-year-old Vanessa Carreira said.

A spokeswoman for the organisers, Stella Din, said on Sunday the contestants were "feeling really, really miserable".

"We are very sorry it has come to this," she said.

Earlier, she said the decision to leave had been taken "in order to stop the bloodshed, for the sake of the nation".

Press 'conspiracy'

Nigeria won the right to stage the pageant after Nigerian Agbani Darego was crowned Miss World 2001 - the first black African to win the title.

Ben Maray, the chairman of the Nigerian organising committee, said a huge opportunity to showcase Nigeria had been lost.

Nigeria's Information Minister Jerry Gana pointed a finger at the foreign and domestic media for his country's failed attempt to host the competition.

"I salute the courage of the contestants. They came all the way here despite the conspiracy of the international press... particularly the British press," he said on state radio.

"There's an international conspiracy just to show that an African country like Nigeria cannot host this thing. I think Nigerians should be really angry with the international press," he said, according to the French news agency AFP.

Kaduna residents fleeing
Thousands have fled from their homes
He also criticised the Lagos-based ThisDay newspaper, which published the article which offended Muslims and sparked the violence.

ThisDay said on Saturday that its editor had been detained by police.

The article, which the paper retracted and repeatedly publicly apologised for, suggested that the Prophet Mohammed would have probably chosen to marry one of the Miss World contestants had he witnessed the beauty pageant.

More than 4,000 people have fled their homes in Kaduna, according to the Red Cross.

Civil rights activists say 23 churches and 8 mosques have been burned down in the city.

Burnt-out car tyres litter the streets.

Two years ago, Kaduna saw more than 2,000 deaths in clashes between Christians and Muslims.

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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Dan Isaacs in Nigeria
"It's a sign of hope that Christian and Muslim leaders are calling for calm"
Dela Momodu, editor of Ovation magazine
"We have a history of beauty pageants... some won by muslims"

Miss World row

Analysis

Features

BACKGROUND

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Turning ugly
Miss World: Was it right to quit Nigeria?
See also:

24 Nov 02 | Africa
23 Nov 02 | Africa
22 Nov 02 | Africa
22 Nov 02 | Entertainment
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