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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 02:48 GMT

World: Europe

Muslim denied Croatian beauty title

Miss India (second left) was last year's Miss World

A Muslim who was voted Miss Croatia in a national beauty contest two weeks ago and then denied the title has lost a controversial second vote in the capital, Zagreb.

Stephen Ashley: "A bitter row over national identity"
The jury voted by 12 votes to five on Sunday to award the title to a Roman Catholic girl in preference to the Muslim, Lejla Sehovic.

The Croatian branch of the Helsinki Committee on Human Rights described the contest as a chauvinistic farce, saying the dethronement of Miss Sehovic and the re-running of the contest were politically-motivated, racist decisions.

The British actress, Vanessa Redgrave, has also supported Miss Sehovic, saying she had been denied her human rights.


Lejla Sehovic was dethroned six days after she had won the competition and replaced by the 17-year-old runner up Ivana Petkovic.

The Miss World organisation, which licensed the contest, said a new vote was needed because of irregularities in the judging.

But the 22-year-old Miss Sehovic reportedly told a newspaper: "It seems the problem was with my name".

'Beneath contempt'

Another newspaper, Jutarnji List, suggested that the organisers feared Croatians would object to a Muslim representing them in the Miss World contest - to be held in the Seychelles on 26 November.

However the organisation said it was "beneath contempt" to suggest that ethnic motives were at work in the row.

The Croatian branch of the Helsinki Committee on Human Rights (HCH) said the decision to dethrone Miss Sehovic was politically motivated and racist. It demanded her re-instatement.

HCH chairman Ivan Zvonimir Eieak said: "The election of Miss Croatia has lost its character of an election of a beauty queen and will be a political referendum between two options."

'Dark minds'

The British actress, Vanessa Redgrave, appearing at a HCH press conference, said the judges had violated Miss Sehovic's human rights.

But, the Miss World organisation dismissed the criticisms.

It said: "There are always groups who climb on board of any controversy to further their cause."

Miss Redgrave said such opinions were held by groups which have "minds that are dark, in opposition to human rights".

The new vote is scheduled for Sunday but Miss Sehovic, who is the cousin of a prominent Bosnian writer, says she is unsure if she will take part.

She won the contest on 11 October, setting off protests in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

Deep bitterness remains in Croatia from the ethnic conflicts during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

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