Indonesia axes bikini round for Miss World this year

Miss World has axed the famed bikinis from this year's pageant in Indonesia, replacing the skimpy swimsuits with conservative beach sarongs amid mounting protests from hardline Muslim groups, organizers said Thursday.

All of the more than 130 contestants will be required to wear Bali's traditional long sarongs instead of the sexy bikinis that are historically part of the competition, said Adjie S Soeratmadjie from the RCTI, the official broadcaster and local organizer.

The pageant will be held September 28 on the resort island of Bali and in Sentul, an area near the capital, Jakarta. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country.

"There will no bikini in this year's Miss World pageant to respect our traditional customs and values," Soeratmadjie said, adding that the London-based Miss World Organization is on board with the decision.

"This is a sensitive issue in Indonesia. We have discussed it since last year and they have agreed," he said.

The Miss World Organization did not immediately respond to a written query. The pageant began in the 1950s, and the first winner was crowned in a two-piece bathing suit.

Controversy over the pageant has been mounting in Indonesia, which has a reputation as a tolerant, pluralist society that respects freedom of expression.

Clerics of the Indonesian Council of Ulema, or MUI, said they would send a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to demand that the beauty pageant be canceled.

"That contest is just an excuse to show women's body parts that should remain covered," said Mukri Aji, a prominent cleric from West Java province's MUI branch. "It's against Islamic teachings."

Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a hardline Islamic group, said it planned to stage a protest and called for the competition to be moved elsewhere.

Most Muslims in Indonesia, a secular country of 240 million people, are moderate, but a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years.

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