Muslim queen regains crown

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THE ETHNIC cleansing of a beauty pageant in Croatia appears to have been reversed rather more successfully than the population movements of the 1994-1995 war in neighbouring Bosnia.

Lejla Sehovic, the Muslimcrowned Miss Croatia last week and then sacked in favour of a Christian, has been reinstated. The move came after protests from human rights activists.

In an apparent display of xenophobia, Ms Sehovic was dethroned five days after hervictory when a second count was ordered on the grounds that the original result had been tainted by collusion between judges.

But the Croatian authorities' antipathy to Muslims and the fact that it took the organisers five days to reclaim the crown led Ms Sehovic and human rights activists, including the actress Vanessa Redgrave, to smell a rat. At a news conference last Saturday, she suggested some people involved had "minds that were in the dark".

In the second ballot, Ivana Petkovic, a 17-year-old Catholic who had been the original runner-up, was presented with the title. Ms Sehovic then consulted her lawyer and forced a compromise at a meeting with the contest's organiser. She will now represent Croatia at the Miss World finals in the Seychelles, while Ms Petkovic will take the stage in 1999.

Eric Morley, Miss World organiser, described the affair as a circus. "We've got enough real problems in the world trying to fight hunger and so on, without worrying about two beauty queens," he said.

Many Croats, especially in sophisticated circles in Zagreb, are sympathetic to the plight of Bosnia's Muslims, but the governing party prefers to cast Croatia as the Christian West's bulwark against the Islamic "fundamentalism" of neighbouring Bosnia. Some Croats now believe they should ditch the old-fashioned contest.