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Serbia wins
Eurovision song contest

Serbia wins
Eurovision song contest

Serbia's Marija Serifovic sang a heart-wrenching power ballad to win the 2007 Eurovision song contest early Sunday, an annual extravaganza of pop, rock, and circus acts featuring bare flesh and fiery pyrotechnics.

Serifovic's ballad ''Molitva,'' or ''A Prayer,'' beat a glitzy drag show act from Ukraine and a Russian girl band to win the annual event. Voters from an estimated television viewing audience of 100 million across the continent picked their favorite performance by phone and text message.

''All my life I have been singing and tonight this [victory] makes me very proud,'' said Serifovic, 22, who sang about love and pain in Serbo-Croatian, flanked by five other women dressed in black suits and ties.

It was Serbia's first appearance in the competition as an independent nation after Serbia-Montenegro split last year. Eastern European countries took 14 of the top 16 spots in the finals.

In Serbia, thousands took to the streets of Belgrade and other cities to celebrate Serifovic's victory. Massive sing-alongs to the winning tune and car-honking echoed through the streets.

''Congratulations, Marija! Serbia is very proud tonight and celebrates your success,'' Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in a statement.

The competition, known for its camp acts and over-the-top performances, is maligned by some as an exhibition in bad taste. But more than 9,000 admirers of the kitschy acts and bubble-gum music packed Helsinki's largest ice hockey stadium to watch the event, while a few miles away up to 20,000 people viewed it live on giant screens in the city's central square.

Finland hosted this year's contest because Finnish latex-masked monster band Lordi won it in 2006. The mad bash had put the Finns in a carnival mood with 350 events organized during what was dubbed ''Eurovision Week.''

On ''Helsinki Party'' day Friday, police closed off central streets for military parades, samba shows, and band performances in bright, cold sunshine. Temperatures dipped to near-freezing when 3,000 enthusiasts watched the semifinals of the contest in the main square on Thursday night.

Ten countries advanced to reach Saturday night's finals--Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey. They joined last year's top 10--Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, and Finland.

Also, the traditional ''Big Four''--Britain, France, Germany, and Spain--automatically went to the finals as they are the biggest sponsors of the event.

Some favorites among Eurovision watchers dropped out in the early round, including Norway's Latin-beat dance number, Swiss DJ Bobo's neo-Gothic vampire song and Denmark's brightly plumed drag artist Drama Queen.

Israel's entry, ''Push the Button'' by the Teapacks, which fueled controversy months before the competition for purported allusions to Iran's nuclear ambitions, also failed to make the grade.

Last year, Lordi's victory with the growling rock number ''Hard Rock Hallelujah'' shocked many traditional fans of the contest. The band's lead singer, Tomi Putaansuu, said at the time it had ''changed the face of the Eurovision [song contest] forever.''

Now, he is not so sure. ''The glitz and kitsch are back,'' he said before Saturday night's competition. (AP)

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