Miss Dominican Republic, 18-year old Amelia Vega, has been crowned Miss Universe for 2003 in Panama City, Panama.

Miss Vega edged out first-runner up Miss Venezuela, Mariangel Ruiz to win the honor late Tuesday. Miss South Africa, Cindy Nell was the second runner up, followed by third runner up Miss Serbia and Montenegro, Sanja Papic, and fourth runner up, Miss Japan, Miyako Miyzaki.

Seventy one young women competed for the Miss Universe crown, which itself is valued at $250,000, as well as thousands of dollars' worth in cash and other prizes.

Miss Vega succeeds Panama's Justine Pasek, the 2002 first runner up who took over the crown from Russia's Oxana Federova.

Pageant organizers stripped Ms. Federova of her title, saying she failed to appear at promotional and charity events. Ms. Federova claimed she resigned.

It was the first time a winner had lost her crown.