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Miss Philippines wins 2018 Miss Universe crown

Catriona Gray of the Philippines reacts as she is crowned the new Miss Universe 2018 by Miss Universe 2017 Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters on December 17, 2018 in Bangkok. AFP PHOTO

Catriona Gray, 24, finished first ahead of the South African and Venezuelan finalists in the glittering televised event hosted by American comic turned TV host Steve Harvey and supermodel Ashley Graham.

In the final round, Gray earned applause describing her work in the slums of the Philippine capital Manila.

After winning she told reporters she would like to expand her work with an organisation in the Philippines that promotes education on HIV and AIDS.

“A few years ago I lost a close friend to health complications with HIV,” she said.

Catriona Gray of the Philippines smiles after being crowned the new Miss Universe 2018 on December 17, 2018 in Bangkok. AFP PHOTO

“So spreading awareness on that cause and encouraging people to get the simple test and knowing their status is definitely one of my first projects that I’d like to pursue.”

Gray – a student of music theory – beat more than 90 contestants from around the globe in the 67th instalment of Miss Universe, which was held in the Thai capital’s Impact Arena.

Amaryn Green of South Africa competes in the evening gown competition during the 2018 Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok on December 13, 2018. AFP PHOTOS

During the competition, which was broadcast live, candidates were asked questions on press freedom, legalisation of marijuana, refugees and the #MeToo movement.

This year’s event drew positive feedback for themes of inclusivity and an all-women panel of judges made up of business leaders and former Miss Universe titleholders.

Miss Spain’s Angela Ponce made history as the first transgender candidate in a competition once owned by President Donald Trump, whose administration has attempted to block military recruitment of transgender people.

Angela Ponce of Spain competes in the swimsuit competition during the 2018 Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok on December 13, 2018.

“I always say: having a vagina didn’t transform me into a woman. I am a woman, already before birth, because my identity is here,” Ponce told AFP on Saturday, gesturing to her head.

She added she wanted her appearance to be empowering and that she hoped for a “new generation of human beings who are raised a lot better, more tolerant and respectful.”

Miss USA 2018 Sarah Rose Summers poses on stage during the 2018 Miss Universe national costume presentation in Chonburi province on December 10, 2018.

But issues of tolerance and respect came centre stage during the competition when Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers appeared to poke fun at Miss Vietnam and Miss Cambodia on social media for not being able to speak English.

The comments went viral but Summers later posted an apology on Instagram, saying she did not “intend to hurt” her fellow competitors.

Melba Shakabozha of Zambia competes in the evening gown competition during the 2018 Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok on December 13, 2018.

Gray’s victory was closely followed in the Philippines, where beauty pageants are hugely popular.

US artists Ne-Yo performs with Thai traditional dancers during the 2018 Miss Universe Pageant in Bangkok on December 17, 2018.

Social media exploded with clips of fans jumping for joy and hugging each other as the Filipina contestant went through each successive round and eventually won.

A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte in a statement praised Gray’s win for putting the Philippines on the world map “for its beauty and elegance”.

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