LONDON – Weary Miss World contestants arrived in London Sunday on a hastily organized flight from Nigeria after rioting caused the pageant to be canceled there.
The death toll from the riots in Nigeria more than doubled on Sunday when the Nigerian Red Cross told The Associated Press it had counted more than 215 bodies in the northern city of Kaduna.
On Saturday organizers decided to move the Miss World final to London after three days of violence in Nigeria triggered by a newspaper article suggesting Islam's founding prophet would have approved of the pageant.
Dressed casually in jeans, sweaters and blouses, more than 80 beauty queens emerged at the airport, pushing heavily laden baggage trollies, and were shepherded to a waiting bus by organizers.
"Obviously it's been quite daunting but I'm just happy to be home, looking forward to seeing my family," said Miss England, 22-year-old Daniella Luan.
Miss France Caroline Chamorand said: "I'm happy to be back in London."
Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the Nigerian Red Cross, told the AP that by late Saturday 215 bodies were found on the streets and in mortuaries of Kaduna.
An unknown number of others killed were believed to have been buried individually by family members, he said.
The violence started Wednesday in Kaduna and spread Friday to Abuja, where the event was to have been held. Angry Christians attacked Muslims who objected to the contest on moral grounds.
Pageant publicist Stella Din said organizers decided to move the beauty pageant because "we didn't want any more bloodshed."
The London show is scheduled for Dec. 7, the same day it had been planned for Nigeria.
But some contestants may not participate.
Miss Canada Lynsey Bennet fled her hotel room on Friday evening before organizers canceled the pageant, Din said. Bennet was believed to have flown Saturday morning to London and was planning to return to Canada, Western diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Another contestant, Miss South Korea, also left the pageant early, Morley said.
At least four contestants decided to boycott the pageant because of rulings by Islamic courts in Nigeria sentencing women to death by stoning for having sex outside of marriage.
At least one of the boycotters, Miss Denmark Masja Juel, said she would not participate in the relocated pageant.
"It should be a happy event, but personally, I feel all the happiness about it is gone," she said.
Some Muslims in Britain also called for the event to be canceled.
"It is wrong that it should happen in Britain, in Nigeria or in any country," Sajjad Khan, of the Islamic Liberation Party in Britain, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio on Saturday.
"I think the whole idea of having a beauty contest anywhere would be against many forward-thinking people of whatever faith and whatever ideology."