All set for Miss World pageant

2009-12-12 16:09

Johannesburg - Beauty queens from around the globe vying for the Miss World title prepare on Saturday for a night of glitz, glamour and suspense, while claims of religious cult links swirl around one contestant.

"There is a an air of excitement among the contestants as former Miss Worlds and VIP guests start to arrive," the Miss World company said in a statement.

But this year's event has been tainted by a media report, linking Miss Indonesia, Kerenina Sunny Halim, to an American religious cult.

According to a report by the Mail and Guardian, Halim belongs to The Family International, a church group which has been mired in child and sexual abuse allegations by former members.

The 23-year-old Halim told the Jakarta Globe that she is a member of the church, for which she did humanitarian work after the Asian tsunami in 2004, the Mail and Guardian said.

The newspaper also revealed that the church group's founder David Brandt Berg preached free love to his followers, encouraging females to go into the world and engage in "flirty-fishing" of men.

"The Mail and Guardian has besmirched the reputation of a young woman without any justification for doing so," responded the Miss World company in a statement.

The Johannesburg High Court on Saturday morning ruled against the company's attempt to force the newspaper to remove the story from its website.

"This was a blatant attempt by Miss World Ltd to intimidate us by threatening damages running into hundreds of millions of pounds sterling," said Mail and Guardian editor, Nic Dawes.

"I have offered the pageant organisers right of reply in our newspaper and on our website, which they have yet to take up," said Dawes.

"I hope that they will now appreciate that freedom of speech means more than the freedom to say you support children's charities, world peace, and thin thighs."

But the organisers are determined not to let the incident affect the final show.

Reigning Miss World Ksenia Sukhinova from Russia will hand over the crown at a glittering ceremony in Midrand, north of Johannesburg.

"The format of this year's show is being kept top secret, before being aired live to viewers across the world tonight," the company said.

Held in Johannesburg for a second consecutive year, the extravaganza will be hosted by China's leading television presenter Angela Chow, South African former beauty queen Michelle McLean, and Miss World official Steve Douglas.

The contestants from Barbados, Guatemala and India were on Friday night announced as finalists for the special beauty with a purpose title.

The title pays recognition to beauty queens who have made a difference in people's lives, through charitable works in their home countries.

The winner will be announced during the main event.

"Charity work is integral to the Miss World ethos and part of the brief to contenders in each country is that they volunteer their time or fundraise for charity," said pageant owner Julia Morley.

The contestants arrived in the country on November 14 to start a journey packed with safaris and visits to the country's top tourism sites.

In 1951, Sweden's Kiki Hakansson became the first Miss World, Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry represented America in 1986 and became a runner-up.

Venezuela and India have produced the most Miss Worlds, with 5 title holders each.

The city of Johannesburg has been lambasted for spending R90m to host the event, as the council is battling to meet basic service demands.

The 2010 final will be held in Vietnam.