Gypsy slur at Czech beauty contest

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A 17-YEAR-OLD would-be beauty queen has caused an uproar in the Czech and Slovak republics after announcing publicly that she wanted to 'cleanse' the towns of northern Bohemia of their large gypsy populations.

Magdalena Babicka's extraordinary statement came during the live televising of this year's Miss Czech and Slovak republics contest in the northern spa town of Karlovy Vary.

Asked by the compere about hobbies and life ambitions, Ms Babicka eschewed traditional responses about wanting to travel the world and spread goodwill. Instead she replied bluntly that she wanted to study law, become a public prosecutor and 'cleanse' northern Bohemia of all its 'dark-skinned' (gypsy) inhabitants.

Although many in the audience applauded her remarks and the compere himself did not condemn them, the contest organisers later suggested that the girls taking part were so nervous they might not have known what they were talking about.

Many viewers, commentators and politicians, however, were deeply shocked and embarrassed - particularly given the growing resentment against gypsies that has been becoming increasingly evident since the collapse of Communism in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Petr Uhl, a former dissident and human rights activist, has urged the Czech general prosecutor to charge Ms Babicka with incitement to racial hatred, a crime which, on conviction, could lead to a jail term of one year. The liberal Prague daily, Lidove Noviny, has also called on Czech television to distance itself publicly from the racist remarks and to issue an apology for offence caused.

Ms Babicka, a schoolgirl in the northern town of Usti nad Labem, who did not win the beauty contest which took place over the weekend, has retracted her statement, professing that she 'did not mean it'.

An estimated 500,000 gypsies live in the Czech republic, concentrated in northern Bohemia near the German border. In addition to facing increasing attacks from skinhead groups, gypsy leaders say they are being systematically discriminated against and blamed for an upsurge in crime.