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Miss Nepal Crowned Amid Protests

Demonstrators in Nepal's capital have clashed with police in a failed bid to halt the country's most popular beauty pageant. VOA's Steve Herman reports from our South Asia bureau in New Delhi.

Despite a protest by Maoists and other opponents of beauty pageants, a 23-year-old sales executive has been crowned as the new Miss Nepal.

The Maoists joined Nepal's government a week ago and had vowed to stop the competition, calling it degrading because it exploits women.

Maoist lawmaker Devi Khadka told reporters during Saturday evening's event all such contests should be banned in Nepal because they are demeaning to women.

The Maoists waged a decade-long insurgency against Nepal's monarchy, but agreed last year to end their violent struggle and join the democratic process.

Opponents of the pageant had hoped that the country's new communications minister in the interim government, a Maoist, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, would ban the broadcast of the Miss Nepal contest. But the event was aired live on state television.

The Miss Nepal pageant was not held last year due to security concerns.

Outside the convention center in Kathmandu, hundreds of protesters clashed with baton-wielding riot police. Indian television on Sunday broadcast scenes of bloodied demonstrators.

After Sitashma Chand defeated 18 other contestants, the new Miss Nepal told reporters opponents of the pageant should respect the rights of those who wanted to participate in the contest, which has a top prize of $2,000.

Chand says she understands the position of the feminists and Maoists who protested, but many of those demonstrating outside are those who regularly participate in protests, no matter what the cause.

Despite Maoist accusations that the pageant contained nudity, the Miss Nepal competition is relatively tame by international standards and does not have a swimsuit round.

Chand will represent Nepal in the Miss World pageant.