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Miss Universe faces rain, protests and catfights

The 72 most beautiful women in the world have so far braved downpours, paparazzi and protesting students.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2003 10:51 IST
AFP
AFP
PTI

The 72 most beautiful women in the world have descended on Panama City for the June 3 Miss Universe pageant, but so far have had to brave downpours, paparazzi, protesting students, money problems and even a fist fight.

The contestants have been preparing here for a week to replace reigning Miss Panama -- who was crowned in September after Miss Russia relinquished the title amid a swirl of reports about a secret marriage and pregnancy.

The contestants' every move have been shadowed by the tabloids, one of which reported that Miss Spain (Eva Maria Gonzalez) and her roommate Miss Colombia (Diana Lucia Mantilla) got into a fistfight over Gonzalez's smoking habit.

The two girls were all smiles later when they publicly denied the report. Mantilla also drew some attention when she gave fellow contestants copies of her rendition of the song, "I am Colombian."

Despite the almost constant downpours since they arrived, the contestants' grueling daily schedule remains on track: banquets, fashion shows by local designers, charity auctions and a candelight vigil for AIDS victims.

And all of the "misses" are trailed by the paparazzi's erupting flashes wherever they go.

However, the beauty queens had to cancel some public event on Wednesday, when hundreds of angry students took to the streets to protest tax reforms and the Miss Universe pageant itself.

Armed with rocks and sticks, the students blocked some main streets for eight hours, disrupting traffic and occasionally clashing with police.

Coinciding with the pageant, several labor unions will hold street marches on Tuesday to protest the government's tax reform and proposal to privatize the social security system.

The Miss Universe pageant world got an unexpected shock early on when it was announced that money problems could force Miss Venezuela out of the competition.

Venezuela is to the beauty pageant circuit what Canada is to ice hockey: Venezuela has won the Miss Universe title four times since it was first held 44 years ago, and is routinely among the finalists.

Venezuela has also won five Miss World and three Miss International titles.

Venezuela's pageant organizers announced they could not raise the 80,000 dollars needed to send Mariangel Ruiz to Panama because of strict currency controls imposed in February amid massive anti-government protests in Caracas.

The money problem was later resolved, but Ruiz's late arrival generated unwelcome media gossip, with some reports calling her delay a strategic maneuver to tip the scales in Venezuela's favor.

Meanwhile, the media has complained of what it said was "mistreatment" by the hundreds of security agents and police in charge of protecting the 72 contestants.

Their complaint drew a response from Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, who requested that security controls be somewhat relaxed. "Protect them, but be good mannered about it," she told the guards.

Asked who her favorite was, Moscoso said she could not say "because all are pretty and deserve the crown."

The new Miss Universe will be crowned at the Figali Convention Center, in the Panama Canal Village at Amador, a former US military base at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.

First Published: Jun 02, 2003 09:57 IST