New Miss France proud of 'mixed' country
Published: 09 Dec 2013 08:59 GMT+01:00
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Franco-Beninese student Flora Coquerel has said she is proud to represent a "cosmopolitan" country after being crowned the new Miss France in a lavish ceremony.
Coquerel, a 19-year-old from Orléans, beat 33 other competitors to take the title in the nationally televised competition in Dijon on Saturday night.
Her victory came amid concern over a series of racist incidents in France, including slurs against the country's top black politician, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who has been compared to a monkey several times in recent months.
In her first post-pageant press conference, Coquerel suggested her victory was evidence of France's acceptance of different backgrounds.
"I am very proud to represent a cosmopolitan France," Coquerel said, adding that she hoped to use her title to promote literacy and the integration of women in the workplace.
Before the competition, Coquerel, whose mother is from Benin in West Africa, told France 3 television that she believed her mixed heritage was an advantage.
"It shows that today's France is a mixed France, where there is every culture, and I think a lot of people will see themselves in me," she said.
Coquerel was chosen by a combination of votes from the television audience and from a jury of celebrities.
The jury was this year headed by French Canadian singer Garou, after movie star Alain Delon quit as honorary president for life in October in a row over his backing of the far-right National Front party.
Organizers of the contest had berated Delon for comments supporting the anti-immigration National Front, its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter, current party leader Marine Le Pen.
Coquerel's victory will be welcomed no doubt by, Louis-Georges Tin, the president of the CRAN (Representative Council of Black Associations), who last year lamented the lack of contestants from France's African and north African communities.
"The failure to represent the contemporary French population in an event such as this is obviously serious," Tin said in a statement at the time issued jointly with Fred Royer, the creator of Miss Black France.
"It amounts to denying the very existence of French people of African origin."
Of the 33 finalists the 2012 contest, eight were from ethnic minorities with six of those coming from France's Pacific or Caribbean territories.
"In the antiquated world of Miss France, blacks apparently can only come from overseas departments," the CRAN statement said.
"As for Frenchwomen of north African heritage, they were 'represented' by only one candidate who was quickly eliminated (too Muslim perhaps?)."
France is home to around five million Muslims, most of them of north African origin.
The statement went on to express regret that "Miss France is as white as the end-of-year snow on the steeples of an eternal France."