Miss World organisers defend Indonesia pageant

NUSA DUA, Indonesia - The organisers of the Miss World beauty pageant in Indonesia insisted Wednesday the show would go on, as Islamic hardline protests began to spread across the country days before the contest starts.

Hardliners have started mobilising to protest at the decision to host the contest in Muslim-majority Indonesia, while Islamic clerics and even a government minister have voiced criticism.

After a protest in the capital Jakarta this week, more than 600 demonstrators took to the streets Wednesday in two other major cities on the main island of Java - Surabaya and Bandung.

"Miss World is an immoral event. If it goes ahead, we will all be punished by God," one protester shouted to the crowd in Bandung, where some 300 protesters responded with chants of "God is great".

They brandished banners reading "Do not sully Indonesia with the Miss World event". In Surabaya, some 350 Muslims took to the streets.

But Hary Tanoesoedibjo, head of MNC media group, which will broadcast the pageant and is also the local organiser, defended the contest.

"I can assure you that there is nothing in this event that isn't in accordance with our culture," he told reporters on the resort island of Bali, where the contest opens Sunday.

And Budi Rustanto, a member of the local organising body, told reporters in Jakarta: "There is no attempt to exploit the contestants, whether that be through them wearing bikinis, undressing, or measuring the size of body parts."

The organisers have already agreed to axe the famed bikini round from this year's contests, with participants instead set to wear more conservative sarongs, but the move has failed to appease hardliners.

More than 120 contestants have already arrived in Indonesia for the pageant. The final will take place outside Jakarta on September 28.

While most Indonesians in the nation of more than 240 million people practise a moderate form of Islam, a vocal hardline fringe has succeeded in getting events cancelled in the past.

Last year, pop sensation Lady Gaga axed a concert after hardliners threatened to burn down the venue and criticised her for wearing only "a bra and panties".