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By Tume Ahemba
LAGOS (Reuters) - Promoters of this year's Miss World beauty pageant in Nigeria reacted coolly on Friday to threats of a boycott of the event triggered by Nigerian Muslim courts sentencing three people to be stoned to death.
Silverbird Promotions, co-sponsors of what will be the biggest showbiz event in Nigeria, acknowledged the devastating effect of such executions but doubted they would be carried out.
"It is not only the Miss World pageant that will be affected if they are carried out, the whole country will be affected socially, economically and politically," Silverbird's chief executive Guy Murray-Bruce told Reuters.
"We believe that the verdicts will be overturned by the higher courts," he said.
Three beauty queens -- from Ivory Coast, Kenya and Norway -- have said they will withdraw from the pageant billed for the capital Abuja in November if a Muslim woman, Amina Lawal Kurami, is stoned to death for bearing a child outside marriage.
A Muslim court in the north-central state of Niger has since sentenced a couple to be stoned to death for adultery after a separate sharia trial.
"These are isolated cases that are confined to the northern part of the country and which most people in Lagos and the rest of the south are not even aware of," Murray-Bruce said.
Nigeria has faced an international outcry since the Upper Sharia Court in the northern town of Funtua last week upheld the death sentence on Kurami, 31, by a lower court.
But the court ordered that Kurami should not be executed until 2004 after she had weaned her daughter, now aged nine months. Her lawyers are appealing against the verdict.
Although a man has already been hanged for murder after a sharia trial, Nigeria has not carried out any stoning death sentence since states in the largely Muslim north began implementing the Islamic penal code in late 2000.
Another woman, Safiya Hussaini Tungar-Tudu, won her appeal against a sentence of a stoning death in March after the European Union ( news - web sites) led international pressure to save her.
But local authorities in northwestern Jigawa state said this week they will execute a 50-year-old man sentenced to death for raping a nine-year-old girl because he had failed to appeal.
Murray-Bruce also shrugged off protests by some Muslim groups against staging the pageant in Nigeria. He said the contest was aimed at promoting the dignity of women, rather than debasing them as claimed by the Islamists.
The introduction of sharia prompted controversy in the mainly Muslim northern states where more than 3,000 people have died in Muslim-Christian clashes in the past three years.
Nigeria won the right to host the annual pageant after Nigeria's tall, long-necked Agbani Darego was crowned Miss World at the last contest in South Africa.
Africa's most populous nation of more than 120 million people hopes that hosting the pageant, begun in 1951, would boost tourism and reduce its dependence on crude oil revenues.
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