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General News of Friday, 28 May 1999

Source: Reuters

Miss Ghana in top 10 of Miss Universe Crown

By Jim Loney

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (Reuters) - Miss Botswana Mpule Kwelagobe, a 19-year-old who wants to be president of her country and sees nothing wrong with a pregnant beauty queen, won the 1999 Miss Universe pageant Wednesday.

Miss Philippines Miriam Quiambao, 24, was first runner-up and Miss Spain Diana Nogueira, 24, was second runner-up in the contest televised to an estimated audience of 2.5 billion people from the twin-island Caribbean republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Kwelagobe, a model who listed electronics engineer as her future goal on her pageant paperwork and once was named best female student in Botswana, was the third African winner of the annual beauty contest, according to pageant organizers, following in the footsteps Michelle McLean who won for Namibia in 1992 and Margaret Gardiner of South Africa in 1978.

Kwelagobe, who was seldom mentioned when local pundits handicapped the pre-contest favorites, said she would make AIDS and education the top priorities of her one-year reign.

``My own country has the highest AIDS victims per capita in the world, so I do want to work with HIV-affected people specifically children, because I believe they are the ones that are affected most,'' she said at a news conference.

She said during the contest that she aspired to the presidency of Botswana, a south-central African nation of about 1.6 million people and expected her victory to attract foreign investment.

``I believe that my country has a lot of development and if there is anywhere I want to help develop it has to be my country,'' Kwelagobe said. ``My country is a very promising country, very young, and I want to work to help develop it.''

Observers said it was her poise answering tough questions that won for her, including the final question put to the candidates about the possibility of Miss Universe becoming pregnant during her reign. The audience of 4,500 applauded loudly when she defended pregnancy as ``embracing your femininity.''

Miss Universe candidates are not allowed to be pregnant and must never have given birth to a child.

``When you enter a beauty pageant you do symbolize women and women do get pregnant and have children,'' she said. ``I do not see being pregnant interrupting anything I do in my life. That's what it's all about, celebrating the fact that you're a woman and that you can bear children.''

The pageant was held amid great fanfare in Trinidad and Tobago, where the government billed it as a chance to boost tourism in the former British colony.

U.S. real estate magnate Donald Trump, who with the CBS television network bought the pageant several years ago, flew to the island on a private jet this week and announced he was scouting for investment opportunities.

In days preceding the pageant, Trinidad hosted several dozen foreign business executives in a bid to lure some US$80 million in new investments to the oil- and gas-rich country, which staggered under slumping world petroleum prices last year and is fighting a 14 percent unemployment rate.

Some Trinidadians had grumbled about the expenditure of an estimated US$16 million to stage the pageant, openly wondering why the island wasn't flooded with tourists and what they had bought for their tax dollars other than a few paved roads and patched potholes.

But Trinidadians embraced the ultimate winner after their own candidate, Nicole Dyer, failed to make the final 10.

Showing a sense of humor, the new Miss Universe said she was ``scrutinizing'' male suitors.

``A girl like me needs a really good man,'' she said.

The others in the top 10 of 84 contestants were: Miss Mexico Silvia Salgado, 21, Miss Jamaica Nicole Haughton, 24, Miss Puerto Rico Brenda Liz Lopez, 23, Miss Ghana Akuba Cudjoe, 20, Miss South Africa Sonia Raciti, 21, Miss India Gul Panag, 20, and Miss Venezuela Carolina Indriago, 18.