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Russia readies for Europe song contest

Associated Press / May 16, 2009
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MOSCOW - Amid a frenzied light show, pyrotechnics, and questionable wardrobe decisions, performers from across Europe will seek melodic supremacy tonight at the annual Eurovision song contest.

The continent's gaudiest, loudest, and most popular music competition isn't just a battle of the bands; it's a $32.5 million showcase for the 42 participating nations that typically attracts 100 million viewers from around the world.

As last year's winner, Russia is hosting the annual competition for the first time. The contest not only has fired up pop music fans and spawned a host of parties, it has raised issues such as racial tolerance and gay rights only occasionally debated in Russian society.

"You can't deny that the politics has been very upfront this year," said BBC broadcaster Paddy O'Connell, who is providing commentary on the competition this year.

Some contestants have tried to use the competition as a venue for settling international scores.

Two months ago, the pop group Stephane and 3G from Georgia vowed to perform "We Don't Wanna Put In," a thinly veiled jab at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia.

They pulled out when organizers warned that politically charged songs would not be permitted. Russia and Georgia fought a war last year.

Georgia responded by organizing its own state-supported songfest this weekend, Alter/Vision, drawing groups from 10 countries, including Russia. Stephane and 3G were to perform at the festival in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi.