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Indian Woman Is Miss Universe 2000

May 13, 2000 GMT

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ A 21-year-old model from India who said beauty pageants give women a platform to ``voice our choices and opinions″ was named Miss Universe early Saturday.

Lara Dutta succeeded Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana to become the 49th winner of the pageant and the first Miss Universe of the new millennium.

Claudia Morena, 22, of Venezuela was second and Helen Lindes, 18 of Spain was third.

Dutta, who holds a master’s degree in communications, won out over 78 other contestants who had competed during the last three weeks on this Mediterranean island, which promoted itself as the island of love. According to Greek mythology, the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, was born here.

The show was broadcast live on CBS television, beginning at 4 a.m. Cyprus time. Organizers said they chose that odd local hour to take advantage of the prime time viewing in the Americas.

Miss USA Lynnette Cole, 22, of Columbia, Tenn. was among the five finalists.

Dutta won the crown after impressing the judges with an answer to the final question of the contest. Moreno and Lindes were also asked the same question: What would you say to those who condemn the contest as an affront to women.

``I think pageants like Miss Universe give us young women a platform to foray in the fields that we want to and forge ahead be it entrepreneurship, be it the armed forces, be it politics,″ Dutta said. ``It gives us a platform to voice our choices and opinions.″

The pageant was carried out with a background of protest.

The Cypriot Church condemned the event as an affront to feminism, and called for the all-night vigil near the Eleftheria stadium, where the pageant was held. About 100 mostly middle-age women gathered.

Earlier, the parishioners distributed leaflets on the street that said: ``Shame to the beauty contest which plunges women down to the bottomless pit of hell.″

The island’s Westernized residents have largely ignored the church protests, which have also targeted sponsors linking the pageant to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love who according to legend was born out of foam washed up on Cyprus’ coast.

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