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Top 20 finalists chosen for Miss Universe!

Unlike last year's pageant, where only 15 contestants qualified for the preliminary round, this year 20 semi-finalists will contend for the grand finale.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2006 10:22 IST

Even as conflict embroils much of the world, some 88 women hoping to be ambassadors of goodwill have gathered in Los Angeles this week vowing to put politics aside as they compete to become Miss Universe.

The beauty pageant, which will be held in Los Angeles on Sunday, July 23, and watched in some 170 countries, is now in its 55th year. The winner will spend her reign as Miss Universe travelling the globe speaking out on humanitarian, health and other issues.

Canadian Natalie Glebova, Miss Universe for the past year, has become an advocate of HIV/AIDS education, research and legislation, and went so far as to take an HIV test in a Johannesburg hospital to raise public awareness.

This year, world conflicts have dominated news headlines, but over the past two weeks as the contestants toured Los Angeles and competed in preliminary competitions, the women said politics have been put aside.

"There's no need to pull politics into a pageant because as beauty queens -- if you want to call us that - that's not our job ... It's our job to work for our official causes," Miss USA Tara Conner said.

Miss Mexico Priscila Perales agreed. "You can't really judge somebody else because of what their politicians and countries are doing."

Contestants from nations ranging from Albania to Zambia compete in traditional categories such as evening gowns and swimsuits. But they also answer questions that give insight into their personality and public speaking ability.

The top 20 finalists for Sunday's live two-hour telecast, which airs in the United States on NBC stations, were chosen in a preliminary round of the competition on Tuesday night. But those contestants will not be revealed until Sunday's show.

After the top 20 semi-finalists parade in swimsuits, only 10 candidates will go on to compete in the evening gown competition. They will then become 5, and possibly a top 3 after that (to be confirmed).

The pageant was last held in the United States in 1998, when the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu was the host city. Last year Bangkok hosted the pageant.

This year's pageant has been unusually free of controversy. Last year, for instance, Buddhist traditionalists voiced their outrage when bikini-clad contestants posed outside Bangkok's famed "Wat Arun," or "Temple of the Dawn."