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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Afghan beauty queen makes history
Vida Samadzai on parade in the Miss Earth contest in Manila, the Philippines
Samadzai has lived in the US since 1996
Afghanistan is to compete in a beauty contest for the first time in more than 30 years and almost two years after the fall of the oppressive Taleban regime.

Vida Samadzai, 25, who has lived in the United States since 1996, will compete alongside 60 other women from across the world for the Miss Earth title in Manila, the Philippines, contest organisers said.

Ms Samadzai, or Miss Afghanistan as she will be known in the competition, will take part in all sections of the contest, including the swimsuit section.

It is a sharp contrast to the beliefs of the former Taleban regime, which demanded that women wear coverings, or burqas, from head to toe whenever they went out in public.

Charity works

Ms Samadzai, who now studies at a Californian university, said her participation in the contest sent out a powerful message to her fellow countrywomen.

"I would like to make people aware that, as Afghan women, we are talented, intelligent and beautiful," she told Reuters news agency.

"I'm happy and I feel great that the country is relieved from the Taleban's regime.

"Now, women can go to school, go to work, they're free. They don't have to wear those long burqas anymore."

Ms Samadzai is also not just a very beautiful face; she helped to found a US-based Afghan women's charity which raises awareness of women's rights and education in the troubled country.

And she is only the second Miss Afghanistan to take part in a beauty contest.

Zohra Daoud was crowned Miss Afghanistan in 1974 and technically still retains that title.

The BBC's John McLean
"It's a far cry from the days of the Taleban"

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