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Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 05:17 GMT 06:17 UK
Miss India rules the universe
Miss Universe
Lara Dutta (centre) defeated 78 contestants
A 21-year-old Indian economics student has been crowned Miss Universe beating contestants from 78 other countries.

Lara Dutta won the title after defending the pagent, which she said gave a platform for women's "choices and opinions".

Venezuela's Claudia Moreno, 22, was first runner up and Spain's Helen Lindes, 18, second runner up in the competition held in Cyprus.

Outside the venue - a basketball stadium decorated to resemble an ancient Greek ampitheatre - Orthodox priests staged a small-scale protest against the beauty contest.

Defending Miss Universe

Miss India won the crown after impressing the judges with an answer to the final question: What would you say to those who condemn the contest as an affront to women?


Miss India
Lara Dutta is crowned

"I think pageants like Miss Universe give young women a platform to follow the field we want, a platform to voice our opinions and make us stronger," the economics student replied.

She succeeds Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana to become the 49th winner of the pageant.

In India, the panel responsible for selecting Miss India was jubilant.

Satya Saran, editor of the Times of India group's Femina magazine which has been organising Miss India contests since 1964, said: "She has got the combination of looks and brains.

"Lara is exactly what Miss Universe is looking for. The way she conducts herself and talks, she is in control of herself."

The contest was held early on Saturday morning in Cyprus, to coincide with television prime time in the United States.

Greek Orthodox priests held an all-night vigil in a nearby church.

A leaflet circulated during the mass read: "Shame on the pageant which shoots women down to the bottomless pits of hell."

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27 May 99 | Entertainment
Miss Botswana takes the crown
15 Oct 99 | Northern Ireland
NI loses out on Miss World entry
29 Jun 99 | Europe
Ugly Miss France row settled
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