July 20, 2006

Miss Universe contestants put politics aside

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Even as conflict embroils much of
the world, some 88 women hoping to be ambassadors of goodwill
have gathered in Los Angeles this week vowing to put politics
aside as they compete to become Miss Universe.

The beauty pageant, which will be held here this Sunday and
watched in some 170 countries, is now in its 55th year. The
winner will spend her reign as Miss Universe traveling the
globe speaking out on humanitarian, health and other issues.

Canadian Natalie Glebova, Miss Universe for the past year,
has become an advocate of HIV/AIDS education, research and
legislation, and went so far as to take an HIV test in a
Johannesburg hospital to raise public awareness.

This year, world conflicts have dominated news headlines,
but over the past two weeks as the contestants toured Los
Angeles and competed in preliminary competitions, the women
said politics have been put aside.

"There's no need to pull politics into a pageant because as
beauty queens -- if you want to call us that -- that's not our
job ... It's our job to work for our official causes," Miss USA
Tara Conner told Reuters.

Miss Mexico Priscila Perales agreed. "You can't really
judge somebody else because of what their politicians and
countries are doing."

Contestants from nations ranging from Albania to Zambia
compete in traditional categories such as evening gowns and
swimsuits. But they also answer questions that give insight
into their personality and public speaking ability.

The top 20 finalists for Sunday's live two-hour telecast,
which airs in the United States on NBC stations, were chosen in
a preliminary round of the competition on Tuesday night. But
those contestants will not be revealed until Sunday's show.

The pageant was last held in the United States in 1998,
when the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu was the host city. Last
year Bangkok hosted the pageant.

This year's pageant has been unusually free of controversy.
Last year, for instance, Buddhist traditionalists voiced their
outrage when bikini-clad contestants posed outside Bangkok's
famed "Wat Arun," or "Temple of the Dawn."