BAKU (Reuters) - Sweden’s Loreen won the Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan on Sunday before an international TV audience of 100 million, days after angering Azeri authorities by meeting rights activists critical of the host country’s human rights record.
Opposition groups have used the Eurovision spotlight, intended by Azerbaijan to promote the country as a destination for tourism and business, to demand democracy and the resignation of the government.
Dozens of peaceful protesters have been arrested this month in the Caspian coastal capital, Baku. Activists say some buildings in the centre of the city were torn down to make way for the Eurovision arena and residents were forcibly evicted without proper compensation.
The 28-year-old won with the song “Euphoria” in the annual competition of 42 countries, delighting viewers and the contest’s professional judges and dancing barefoot as she sang.
Russia came second and Serbia was third in the 57th year of a contest famous for heavy-duty kitsch.
The competition took place in a specially-built “Crystal Hall” on the shores of the Caspian.
Loreen met activists who accuse the government of forcing people from their homes for the building of the hall, an accusation Baku denies. Azeri authorities accused her of making political statements that did not belong in a musical event.
The Eurovision Song Contest has been a launching pad for international careers. Swedish pop group Abba became famous after winning in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Canada’s Celine Dion took top honors in 1988 for Switzerland.
To promote talent over politically and geographically motivated bloc voting, professional judges now account for 50 percent of a performer’s score.
The other half comes from the number of telephone and SMS votes each contestant receives, with fans unable to vote for their own country’s entry.
As winner, Sweden will host the next Eurovision contest.
Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Louise Ireland and Ralph Boulton