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Nigeria promises to spare mother from stoning after Miss World row

The Nigerian government has promised to prevent the stoning to death of a woman condemned by a religious court. A minister intervened yesterday in an attempt to end the controversy surrounding Nigeria's hosting of the Miss World competition.

At least five contestants have said they will pull out of the contest in protest at the death sentence handed down toAmina Lawal for adultery, after she had a child out of wedlock.

Ms Lawal, 30, was sentenced by an Islamic sharia court in the northern state of Katsina in March.

Miss World finalists from Denmark, Austria, Costa Rica, Switzerland and Panama had said they would boycotting the contest on 7 December, and others were considering joining them. The Earl of Wessex withdrew from a Miss World reception to be held in London tomorrow because of the controversy. The European Parliamentary Labour Party has also called on Miss England to boycott the contest.

Julia Morley, the organiser of the Miss World contest, said in September she was horrified by the stoning case but could not change the world.

A Nigerian minister for foreign affairs, Dubem Onyia, issued a statement through the competition organisers yesterday insisting Ms Lawal would not be put to death.

"We restate that no person shall be condemned to death by stoning in Nigeria ... Amina Lawal will not be subjected to abuse of rights. The Nigerian government shall protect [her] rights," he said.

He added that the Government would "not fold its arms and watch its citizens, whom they have sworn to respect and protect, suffer".

Mr Onyia said the local court sentence could be overruled by federal law, enshrined in the country's constitution. "Even though we support the independence of our judiciary and judicial processes, we shall not allow the human rights of Nigerians and foreigners to be impinged upon," he said.

The case has brought unwelcome publicity for Nigeria, which had hoped the Miss World contest would boost tourism. The event, involving almost 100 countries, is being held in Lagos because Miss Nigeria won last year. Ms Lawal was due to be stoned to death in January 2004, when her daughter Wasila, now 10 months old, is weaned. An appeal against the sentence in August failed. There has been a worldwide campaign against her sentence.