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Miss USA Wins 1995 Miss Universe Pageant, Elephant

May 13, 1995 GMT

WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) _ Chelsi Smith of Deer Park, Texas, is the new Miss Universe 1995 and proud owner of an African elephant that will take her name.

The 21-year-old college student defeated 81 other contestants early today in the first Miss Universe pageant held in Africa. Some 600 million people around the world watched the televised event.

``I feel I’m becoming a professional in the beauty pageant field,″ Miss Smith said after winning.

First runner-up was Miss India, 21-year-old Manpreet Brar of New Delhi. Miss Canada, 20-year-old Lana Buchburger of Calgary, Alberta, was second runner-up.

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Miss Smith thanked God and her family. She said she would concentrate on working with children during her year as Miss Universe, particularly on racism and health issues.

She also implored African women to keep fighting for equal rights.

Describing herself as biracial _ her father is black and her mother white _ Miss Smith said she felt a special significance becoming the first Miss Universe chosen in Africa.

``God had a reason for me to be in Africa,″ she said.

The two-hour program featured African imagery, including a concrete elephant, giraffes and a waterfall on stage with flashy dance numbers. It took place just hours after workers rushed to finish building the resort where the pageant took place.

Miss Smith chose a 75-year-old ankle-length, silk-trimmed cotton lace dress as her national costume to commemorate the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in 1920.

She is the sixth U.S. winner in the 44 years of the Miss Universe pageant and the first since Shawn Weatherly in 1980. Miss Smith receives cash and prizes worth $220,000, including ownership of an African elephant to be named after her.

The Namibian government, which paid millions of dollars to host the pageant, also hopes to draw global recognition and tourism worth much more.

Critics complained the $1.5 million the government paid to host the contest and the $1.6 million spent by the Namibian Broadcasting Corp. for television rights were wasted. The broadcasting company’s employee union said it had been told for years there was no money for salary increases.

Since independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia has been a relatively stable democracy in the volatile southern African region. Much of its population lives in undeveloped rural areas.