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Tuesday, June 29, 1999 Published at 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK

World: Europe

Ugly Miss France row settled

All smiles: Miss France Mareva Galenter at the Miss World contest

A public row over how France chooses its beauty queen has finally been settled by the courts after claim and counter-claim of improper conduct, conflict of interest and jealousy.

After months of intrigue and acres of press coverage, a judge in Paris ruled that the current holder of the Miss France title can keep her crown despite persistent allegations that the contest vote was rigged.

The BBC's Stephen Jessel in Paris: "The judge does not appear to have appreciated this curious affair"
Protesters had attempted to mount a national campaign against 22-year-old Mareva Galenter, otherwise known as Miss Tahiti, after she took the Miss France title in a televised contest last December.

Up to 12 million viewers had watched the show and 300,000 members of the public, voting in a telephone poll, gave the crown to Amelie Rudler - Miss Berry from Central France - even though she said during the contest she did not want the title.

But despite the public's verdict, the television jury of 10 experts, which held two-thirds of the votes compared to the public's one-third, chose Miss Tahiti.

[ image: Bikini brouhaha: Miss Tahiti posed for magazine]
Bikini brouhaha: Miss Tahiti posed for magazine
It later emerged that Miss Tahiti's grandmother makes hats for one of the competition organisers, Genevieve de Fontenay, and another unsuccessful contestant alleged that the vote had been rigged.

In what soon developed into a very public row, protesters claimed that the competition had been compromised because the jury's president, singer Sacha Distel, is also connected to the winner through a distant relation by marriage in Tahiti.

Mrs De Fontenay rejected that allegation as tenuous but "La Guerre des Miss" row continued to occupy the French press.

National campaign

As the crisis at the top of France's beauty pageant industry deepened, opponents to the December contest set up the National Association for Transparency in the National Election of Miss France (ANTEN), claiming 32 members nationwide.

[ image: Sacha Distell: Legend embroiled in row (Pic:1976)]
Sacha Distell: Legend embroiled in row (Pic:1976)
It also alleged that Miss Tahiti gained an unfair lead over her fellow competitors - not by pledging herself to world peace and children - but by posing in a bikini for a major television magazine.

During the show competitors were restricted to one-piece swimming costumes.

The organisers hit back by claiming that critics were motivated by personal disappointment and that rival organisations had been involved.

Mrs Fontenay accused the protesters of being led by the father of a girl rejected as a Miss France contestant because she had appeared in a competitor's show.

"I got nothing out of it," Mrs De Fontenay reportedly said in an earlier interview. "I didn't even get a free hat."

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