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A Glamorous Crusade for Kids

Shahpari Khashoggi, the self-styled citizen of the world who intends to bring the international beau monde to the help of Chechen children, whisked through Moscow on Tuesday on her way back from Chechnya.


Khashoggi, wife of the billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, spent four days in Chechnya gathering information on the plight of children and looking at three potential sites for a children's center she intends to build through her foundation, Survive International Children's Appeal.


"I was shocked by the destruction," Khashoggi said in her Moscow hotel. "But the Chechens have a strength which is rare in people who have been through so much."


Fund-raising for the center will kick off with a star-studded gala in Istanbul in a former Ottoman palace by the Bosporus. Elizabeth Taylor is to be chief guest. Originally planned for Feb. 27, the gala is now scheduled for April 12, by which time Taylor should be sufficiently recovered from an operation to have a benign brain tumor removed.


Khashoggi hopes to raise $1 million from the gala. "The gala is to bring worldwide attention to the cause," she said, "to show support on an international basis, with international personalities. It may be glitzy, but if that's what it takes, so be it."


Combined with other fund-raising events and donations, Khashoggi hopes to raise a total of $3 million for the center.


"I've leaders and rulers of various countries calling to make donations," she said. "I have contacted many entrepreneurs, businessmen, many governments, many stars."


This visit, at the invitation of the Russian and Chechen governments, was a whiz compared with her first trip to Chechnya last month, when she trekked over mountains and forded rivers to travel incognito, for security reasons.


"I arrived looking like a refugee," she said. "When I met the [Chechen] president, he hardly realized who I was. I wanted to be sure that it was an area of great need."


The image of Khashoggi trekking through the hills strikes an odd contrast with the slim, elegant figure in a chic black dress suit seated in her hotel suite.


Born in Iran, educated in England, resident later in the United States and now in Paris, Khashoggi has two children of her own -- Kamal, 4 years old, and Samiha, 3.


Khashoggi said she became interested in the plight of Chechen children when a Chechen government representative visited her husband to seek help for reconstruction work in Chechnya.


"I was present at the visit and I immediately thought of the children because of my foundation," said Khashoggi. "I started the next day."


She decided to enlist the help of Elizabeth Taylor, an old family friend. Together they hope to meet President Boris Yeltsin, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and former Security Council chief Alexander Lebed while in Moscow.


"I would be honored to meet Russian leaders to discuss children's problems here in the Moscow area too," Khashoggi emphasized. "This is a lady's plea on behalf of the children of the world."


With her Grozny visit finished, Khashoggi was preparing to jet off to Istanbul, then to Los Angeles to discuss plans with Taylor.


"I have a number of people I have to meet in Hollywood and Washington," she said. Then she will go to the Middle East and afterwards back to Moscow. "I have one month of crusading to do," she says matter-of-factly.


When complete, the center could house 2,000 to 3,000 children, she said. It will include a center for the handicapped, an orphanage and a mother and child care unit.

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