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Babes, bikinis and Buddhists 

Miss Universe 2005 delegates appear in bikinis before sacred Buddhist temple, triggering anger and red faces

May 23, 2005: The Miss Universe 2005 beauty pageant ran into a controversy last week, when Buddhists in Thailand objected to some of the pictures which appeared in the local papers, which showed the bikini-clad Miss Universe 2005 hopefuls posing with the sacred Buddhist temple Wat Arun, or "Temple of Dawn" in the background.

Thailand is hosting this year's edition of the Miss Universe 2005 beauty contest, where selected candidates from across the world converge in the Thai capital of Bangkok for the pageant finale on May 31.

In the run-up to the actual event on May 31, the Miss Universe delegates are expected to be involved in several promotional activities and charity work. As part of this, several of the candidates were out on a boat cruise. Pictures of the beauties frolicking in the boat wearing skimpy outfits were clicked, with the temple in the background. Obviously, the photographers thought of the temple as nothing more than a landmark to frame is shots. However, the Buddhist clergy thought otherwise.

The pictures appeared on the front pages of many Thai newspapers and in the pageant website, triggering an outcry from Buddhist conservatives. Thailand is a 90% Buddhist country, and the indignation was a little too big to ignore.

Miss Universe 2005 president Paula Shugart soon had the pictures removed from the pageant's website. Paula Shugart said the temple incident was unfortunate and would not repeat. "We knew that if we had any visits to the temple, we knew how the women had to dress. This happened to be out on the river and unfortunately it appeared in the background," she told Reuters. "We would never, ever do anything to intentionally offend anyone here". Shugart also said footage of the 81 Miss Universe hopefuls would be vetted by the pageant's Thai partners before the May 31 grand finale is broadcast worldwide. 

Shaken by last year's deadly tsunami, Thailand had been eagerly looking forward to this year's pageant as a way to bounce back and rebuild tourism in the country. The Thai government has spent nearly 7 million dollars on the pageant and hopes to rake in about 80 million dollars by means of revenue from the May 31 pageant. 

In 2004, American movie Hollywood Buddha had met with opposition in Thailand, pictures of the movie's director sitting atop a statue of Buddha appeared. Finally, the movie's director apologised for the insult.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said: "I think they did not intend to insult Thai culture. They just wanted to shoot pictures of beautiful places but did not realise that the temple is sacred for Thais," he said.


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