Miss World Contestants Hopeful Despite Nigeria Controversy

In their first public appearance here since fleeing religious riots in Nigeria, Miss World competitors held a lively news conference Thursday, defending their contest as a wholesome fashion show that should not be seen as controversial.

Posing for the media, the 92 contestants said they were looking forward to Saturday's performance, with the organizer objecting to complaints by some that such contests are outdated and sexist.

"You see women in fashion shows all the time, and they are not accused of being sexist. This is just a family show," the pageant's president, Julia Morley, said. "These are girls who are having fun."

Miss USA, Rebekah Revels, got up at the central London hotel to belt out an unaccompanied rendition of "Stormy Weather," much to the amusement of the journalists.

Miss Scotland, Paula Murphy, said she was happy the show left Nigeria for England after violence broke out. "I don't agree that the contest should be called off altogether, because I think we did the right thing by leaving," she said.

Last month, the contestants left Nigeria after religious rioting killed more than 200 people.

The controversy surrounding Miss World first began when a number of girls boycotted the competition over host country Nigeria's decision to condemn a woman to death by stoning for committing adultery.

Amina Lawal was sentenced by an Islamic, or Shariah, court after having a child outside marriage. The Nigerian government has said the sentence won't be carried out and that it has the power to overrule Shariah law.

Organizers pressed ahead with plans to stage the event in Nigeria. But violence erupted after a local journalist wrote an article claiming the Muslim prophet Muhammad would have approved of the contest and might even have taken one of the contestants as his bride. The result was the deadly rioting between Muslims and Christians.

Ignoring calls to cancel the pageant, organizer Morley struck a last-minute deal to stage it at Alexandra Palace in north London.

The Miss World contest will be screened in 142 countries, and organizers claim it will attract a global audience of more than two billion.