Miss World head blames media for riots

By AL WEBB, United Press International  |  Nov. 25, 2002 at 11:57 AM
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LONDON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Organizers of the Miss World competition on Monday denied they were to blame for triggering religious riots in Nigeria in which at least 200 people died and led to some 80 beauty contestants fleeing to Britain to stage the event.

Miss World chief Julia Morley blamed the media for the uproar and cited a Nigerian newspaper article that inflamed the nation's Muslim population by suggesting that were he alive, the prophet Mohammed would have wanted to marry one of the beauty queens.

The ensuring rioting flared first in the northern city of Kaduna, then spread rapidly to Abuja, Nigeria's capital and the intended venue for this year's Miss World contest. The contestants hopped on a jetliner to Britain amid criticism that attempts to put on the event in Nigeria was "insensitive and irresponsible."

Morley insisted Monday that the organizers were not responsible for the troubles and claimed the contest was being used as a "political football." She added that trying to stage Miss World in the west African country was not a mistake.

"What was a mistake," she said, "was a journalist making a remark he shouldn't have made. I am sad about the riots, but does that mean you can't go anywhere in the world just because there might be a riot?"

Trouble over the contest in Nigeria erupted when some of the contestants launched a boycott to protest an Islamic court's ruling that a 30-year-old woman, Amina Lawal, should be stoned to death for having a child outside marriage. That was still simmering in the Muslim community when the Miss World show arrived in Nigeria, followed swiftly by the controversial newspaper article.

Morley plans to have the contest in London in early December. But actress-turned-politician Glenda Jackson demanded that it be called off "as a mark of respect to the people who died in Nigeria."

Anyway, she added, "it's such an antediluvian concept."

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