Miss World begins after quick move to Bali

Miss World began in Indonesia last night amid tight security after days of Muslim hardline protests that forced authorities to order the whole beauty pageant be held on the Hindu-majority island of Bali.

As contestants took part in a glittering opening ceremony on the resort island, around 100 police, including some armed with rifles, patrolled around the building where the contest was being held.

The ceremony saw contestants perform a traditional dance using fans, as well as a Balinese "Kecak" dance, in which participants sit in a circle and chant while throwing their hands in the air.

Nana Putra, an official from MNC media group, the local organiser which is also broadcasting Miss World, said organisers hoped the event would "lift Indonesia's image to the world".

But the 63rd edition of the pageant has been overshadowed by a snowballing protest movement, and hundreds of police were deployed across Bali as the event got under way.

"So far there is no indication of a security threat," Bali police spokesman Hariadi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said.

"However we are still increasing our alertness and security - all entrances to Bali are guarded by our personnel."

Thousands of Islamic hardliners have taken to the streets across the country during the past week, denouncing the show as "smut and pornography" and burning effigies of the organisers.

But the anger has not been limited to radicals, with criticism also coming from the country's most prominent Muslim clerical body, rights groups, and a government minister.

Organisers pledged months ago there would be no bikini round during this year's pageant in a bid to avoid causing offence.

However, this was not enough to stop street protests, and on Saturday the government bowed to the mounting pressure by deciding to move the final, on September 28, and several other events to Bali.

While organisers always planned to hold the opening of the show on Bali, the final and other events had originally been scheduled to take place in and around the capital Jakarta.

However, radicals threatened to stage huge rallies in the area, where there is considerable hardline influence, to stop the events from going ahead.

Although Bali has been hit by deadly bomb attacks in the past, hardline influence is almost non-existent on the island nowadays and locals are used to seeing hordes of tourists sunbathing in their swimwear.

Announcing the change of venue, coordinating minister for people's welfare, Agung Laksono, said the government had "listened to what the people wanted".

The organisers said they were "disappointed" by the decision.

"There is the potential that we will be seen as a country which always bows to pressure from a noisy Muslim minority group," Arief Suditomo, from the local organising committee, told AFP.

MNC's Putra said organisers would try to meet the government next week to discuss the decision to move the final to Bali.

While most of Indonesia's population of more than 240 million practises a moderate form of Islam, the influence of the hardline fringe is growing and they have succeeded in getting events changed or cancelled in the past.

Last year, pop sensation Lady Gaga axed a concert after a series of protests, where radicals dubbed her "the devil", threatened to burn down the venue and criticised her for wearing only "a bra and panties".

- AFP

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