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Azerbaijan won Eurovision first-ever

15 may 2011, 12:35
Azerbaijan scored a spectacular first-ever win on Saturday in the 56th Eurovision Song Contest, Europe's annual pop extravaganza watched by tens of millions of people, AFP reports.

Eurovision tradition dictates that Azerbaijan's victory means that the 2012 competition is set to be held in the resource-rich former Soviet republic often criticised by campaign groups for having a poor human rights record.

"Now Europe will really learn about Azerbaijan," accountant Sakina Akhmedova told AFP in Azerbaijan, a 9.1-million-strong mainly Muslim but officially secular state by the Caspian Sea.

"It's a great advertisement for a country like this."

Thousands of people partied through the night in central Baku after the victory of duo Ell and Nikki was announced, ignoring heavy rain as they danced, chanted and waved flags.

In Duesseldorf, Germany, their catchy love song "Running Scared" was voted the best of the 25 finalists by fans watching at home and by "expert" juries in 43 countries in Europe and beyond.

"Thank you, we love you," said Ell, 20, real name Eldar Gasimov. "Thanks to God and to my grandad... Our dream came true."

"From the first day I believed we could do it... The world needs more true love."

It was only the fourth time that Azerbaijan had competed in Eurovision, one of the world's longest-running television programmes and an opportunity for Europeans to forget the continent's woes and let their hair down.

"I can hardly imagine how people are feeling back home today," said Nikki, 31, whose full name is Nigar Jamal, and who lives in London -- and has an accent to prove it.

They saw off strong competition from Germany's Lena, who was hoping to become the first person in Eurovision's long history to win two years running, spiky-haired Irish twins Jedward and French tenor Amaury Vassili.

A number from Zdob si Zbub, a difficult-to-pronounce group of lively Moldovans in "cosmic" pointy hats looked a strong contender, as did songs by Sjonni's Friends from Iceland and from Italian crooner Raphael Gualazzi.

In the end Italy was second and Sweden came third. Germany was 10th, one place ahead of Britain, while France, the bookies' favourite, was 15th. Bringing up the rear were Spain and Estonia, with Switzerland last. Ireland came eighth.

Often cringe-worthy but always watchable, Eurovision is a cherished institution, with 43 nations -- including some from outside Europe -- competing, then whittled down to 25 for the grand final.

"It's amazing. This competition brings Europe together and brings countries together. This is what I went into music for," said Lee Ryan, 27, a member of this year's British entry, newly reformed boy band Blue.

The TV show is now broadcast not only in Europe, but also in Australia, Canada, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States, even though they do not participate.

But Baku will be a considerably more unusual venue than Eurovision fans are used to, and one that could well be controversial.

Here is the ranking of the 25 countries that took part in the grand final of the 56th Eurovision Song Contest held in Duesseldorf, Germany on Saturday.

Rank Country Points

1 Azerbaijan 221

2 Italy 189

3 Sweden 185

4 Ukraine 159

5 Denmark 134

6 Bosnia and Herzegovina 125

7 Greece 120

8 Ireland 119

9 Georgia 110

10 Germany 107

11 United Kingdom 100

12 Moldova 97

13 Slovenia 96

14 Serbia 85

15 France 82

16 Russia 77

17 Romania 77

18 Austria 64

19 Lithuania 63

20 Iceland 61

21 Finland 57

22 Hungary 53

23 Spain 50

24 Estonia 44

25 Switzerland 19

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