Miss Turkey Crowned Miss World

Published December 07, 2002

| Associated Press

With a gleaming smile and a graceful bow, Miss Turkey won the Miss World contest Saturday, bringing to a close an international pageant that incited deadly rioting in Nigeria.

Azra Akin stood proudly to attention while her national anthem was played, after she accepted the glittering tiara and $156,000 prize from last year's winner, Nigeria's Agbani Darego.

"I hope I will represent the women of the world in a good way," said Akin, wearing her new Miss World sash over a flamboyant red dress. "I think it is good for a woman to have this position, and I hope I can make a difference."

Akin, who turns 21 on Sunday and was raised by her Turkish parents in the Netherlands, plays the flute and listed her passions as ballet and belly dancing.

Miss Colombia Natalia Peralta was declared runner-up while Miss Peru Marina Mora Montero took third place. Miss United States, Rebekah Revels of North Carolina, was among the 10 finalists.

Ninety-two contestants took part in the show, which was shunted to London after Muslim-Christian rioting last month killed more than 200 people, forcing it out of Nigeria.

The pageant's motto is "beauty with a purpose," and among this year's contestants were lawyers, businesswomen, architects and a doctor.

Unlike the pageant's heyday in the 1970s, this year's contestants glided along the catwalk in evening gowns rather than swimsuits -- part of an effort to shed the show's sexist image.

But swimwear wasn't entirely absent. As the women strutted across the elaborate stage, footage of them shot beside a Nigerian waterfall was flashed across giant screens.

Despite its 11th hour relocation, the 52nd pageant was slick and glitzy, watched by a sellout audience of several hundred at Alexandra Palace convention center in north London.

Organizers say the show was broadcast in 137 countries to a global audience of more than 2 billion.

In Britain, however, where the pageant is widely seen as a quaint spectacle, no television channel agreed to broadcast it.

The Nigerian rioting was barely mentioned Saturday.

"Our thoughts go out to the families that suffered," said co-host Sean Kanan, an actor from U.S. soap The Bold and The Beautiful.

Amina Lawal, the Nigerian woman sentenced to death by an Islamic court for adultery, gained a tribute. A statement read on behalf of the contestants remembered "all humans across the world who are threatened and abused."

Miss World is used to controversy. In 1970 in London, feminists threw bags of flour. In 1996 in the Indian city Bangalore, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at rock-throwing protesters, and one man committed suicide by self-immolation.

Still, this was arguably the contest's most troubled year.

The controversy began when several contestants boycotted the competition after Lawal was condemned to death. The government promised the sentence would not be carried out, and organizers pressed ahead.

But deadly rioting erupted when a Nigerian 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.

In Nigeria, viewers tuned in with a mixture of regret and relief, with many agreeing the pageant had to be moved to avoid further bloodshed.

"This is just a contest between people who believe they are beautiful," said Halima Ibrahim, a civil servant and self-described "devout Muslim" who watched "out of boredom."

"I am just glad there is no more violence."

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