Miss France keeps crown after photo controversy
PARIS (Reuters) - Miss France 2008 has kept her crown, contest organizers said Friday, after a row over suggestive photographs that saw members of parliament, a bishop and the minister for overseas territories spring to her defense.
However she will not be able to compete in the Miss World or Miss Universe contests, where she will be replaced by Miss New Caledonia.
Valerie Begue, 22, from Reunion, won the beauty pageant, which is taken more seriously in France than in many other countries, in a televised ceremony on December 8.
But her reign threatened to be short-lived after a magazine published a risque series of photographs in which she was seen lying in a crucifixion-like pose while wearing a bikini or licking condensed milk in a suggestive manner.
The rules of the contest forbid participants from appearing in nude or provocative photographs and the head of the Miss France contest, Genevieve de Fontenay, called for Begue to renounce her title when the pictures emerged.
Begue refused, saying the photographs, taken three years ago, had been published without her consent and in the face of wide public support, the organizers relented.
"We felt that, as she had been elected in front of 9 million television viewers, faced with this public that had never seen the photographs, we couldn't take the title from her," de Fontenay told a news conference in Paris.
The affair stirred a major controversy in Reunion, the French Indian Ocean department (region) that Begue comes from, and several members of parliament and local politicians spoke out in her defense.
The bishop of Saint-Denis de La Reunion said that while the photograph of Begue lying on a cross like Christ insulted Christians, it was a "youthful error" and he refused to be used as an ally by those seeking to strip her of her title.
Christian Estrosi, minister for overseas territories, also defended Begue on French radio during the week and he welcomed the decision.
"Reunion, beyond any political and social differences has defended Valerie Begue with heart and talent but has also defended the image of a courageous, determined and successful Reunion," he said in a statement.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Writing by James Mackenzie)
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